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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Targets Smoking with Award Winning “Vets Kick Butts” Program

April 17, 2014

(l to r) Radha Rao, MD, and Daniel DeBrule, Ph.D., discuss how quitting smoking has improved Navy Veteran Dennis Millhouse’s life. Photo by:  Fran Burke, Public Affairs Specialist
Vets Kick Butts is a free program at the Houston VA that helps Veterans kick the smoking habit. Smoking is a major concern of health care professionals given the huge impact that tobacco use can have on one’s health.

“After 40 years of smoking, I knew quitting was going to be a challenge, but I stuck with it,” said Navy Veteran Dennis Millhouse. “One day I found myself finishing a long bike ride and lighting up a cigarette.  I asked myself what I was doing and made a commitment right then to quit.”

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body.  It is a leading cause of many cancers as well as heart disease and stroke.  The harmful health effects from cigarette smoking account for more than 440,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States.

Veterans can “self-enroll” in this new multidisciplinary program that includes individual and group counseling as well as medication consultation.  Guidance and support from staff and fellow patients, along with a workbook with color illustrations and a quit card are available. Staff works with each Veteran based on their personal needs and goals. More than 100 Veterans have participated in the group classes, and some have also elected to receive additional support through individual sessions, telephone contact, and use of VA resources including a hotline and texting program.

Millhouse attended the classes and took medication to help with cravings.  He noticed improvement in his breathing and his energy level increased soon after he quit. 

“This is a great example of the Health Promotion Disease Prevention program working at its best - significant health change in our Veterans accomplished through collaboration of many staff from a multitude of disciplines,” said Daniel DeBrule, Ph.D., Health Behavior Coordinator and Lead Smoking Cessation Coordinator.

Houston VA’s innovative Vets Kick Butts program was recently recognized with a national Bright Spot award by the VA’s National Center for Prevention.   Bright Spot awards recognize VA programs or initiatives that offer creative solutions for everyday problems that others can easily copy.

“It is very gratifying to see our idea of a sustainable multidisciplinary Smoking Cessation clinic come to life. Patients have been very pleased to have highly motivated Prime Care staff available to them for support,” said Radha Rao, MD, Lead Clinician for Tobacco Cessation.

Classes, taught by nurses, social workers, psychologists or physicians, are held Wednesdays and Thursdays in NASA Clinic 4 in Prime Care starting at 1 p.m.  No appointment or consult is needed; just walk in!  Medical providers are available at the end of the session to discuss methods of nicotine replacement, which are offered free to Veterans, and include patches, gum, lozenges, and appropriate medications if needed. 

“It is possible to stop smoking and enjoy life.  I encourage any Veteran who smokes to make a commitment for a healthier lifestyle,” said Millhouse.

Veterans who would like more information about the program can contact Dr. Daniel DeBrule at 713.791.1414, ext. 23911 or talk with their primary care physician.