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Two VA Central Iowa Nurses selected for national song project

5/17/2024

VA Central Iowa Health Care System nurse managers Katie Lunning and Patrick Ragland were selected for the 2024 VA Nurses Month Freedom Sings USA (FSUSA) Collaboration.

Freedom Sings USA is an organization based in Chattanooga, Tennessee that partners award-winning songwriters with Veterans, military personnel, and their families to help tell their stories through song. The songs are then made available through the Freedom Sings website for purchase and download.

The Office of Nursing Services is partnering with FSUSA to honor select nurses during May, National Nurses Month. 

Nationwide, 10 nurses were selected to contribute to the annual project. Two VACIHCS nurses being chosen is an incredible honor. 

Lunning and Ragland were selected this year for their heroism in combat experiences. 

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Ragland attended the ONS FSUSA event in person. 

“It was amazing!” said Ragland. “I am overly impressed and amazed with the ONS Freedom Sings program and am honored to have been selected to attend in person. The experience I had can’t be truly understood unless you have had the privilege to be a part of it. The Freedom Sings program and all who are involved were very passionate and welcoming. I felt like I was family and that people truly wanted to hear my story and how it ties into my VA nursing practice. The experience was extremely therapeutic by being able to talk about my military combat experience to people, especially the song writers, and feel/know that they truly were listening.”

Ragland continued, “The other employees selected were amazing and I related to each of their experiences and songs deeply. They did not pass judgement or attempt minimize my feelings, rather they listened while searching for the song and melody within my experience. They really helped me overcome some feelings that I have been harboring for almost 20 years. This experience is extremely beneficial to more than just nurses who were combat Veterans. This program speaks to all Veterans, Nurses, and all staff who interact with Veterans and these experiences are all relatable and people can find peacefulness in knowing they are not alone. We all have a story to tell, rather as a Veteran or for those who are in the service of trying to make a difference for Veterans. I would like to personally thank Dr. Sapnas, Kathryn for her dedication to this program.” 

A major goal is to transform trauma through tunes, according to FSUSA Co-Founder and Executive Director Bobbie Allison-Standefer. 

Lunning was selected for the project for her actions during the 2021 Afghanistan troop withdraw that earned her the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross.

“August 26th, when the suicide bomber exploded at Abbey Gate, we were the first CCATT in,” Lunning said recalling the events of that day. “It was the largest medical evacuation out of that coalition hospital ever, and very dangerous on the ground. We had to leave the airplane to go get our patients as well. We took injured Marines and Afghan civilians who really weren’t flight worthy, but there was no choice. We just had to get them out of there. So, a lot of medical events occurred on the airplane, but we ended up being able to safely deliver everybody to Landstuhl, Germany [for further medical care].”

Lunning was also a keynote speaker this month in Chattanooga for the FSUSA Trailblazers Luncheon, a program for female Veterans.

“It was an incredible experience to work with Freedom Sings,” said Lunning. “My song writers were Don Goodman and Steve Dean. They are both grammy award winning writers, and their passion for this project is incredible. The ONS is incredibly supportive in getting the stories of their nurses who are also veterans out for people to hear.”

Lunning continued, “I think this project is so important because it shows that no matter the experiences of the different veteran nurses, they have a common relatable core. This relatability speaks to our Veteran patients as well. It is that commonality that makes the VA a special place to work. ONS and Freedom Sings are working together to support nurses and veterans through this project. I am very grateful to have been selected for this special project.” 

There will also be a short documentary about the collaboration, which will come out later this month.

“We are honored to be chosen by the VA to work with these VA nurses,” said Allison-Standefer. “The nurses tell us it is very cathartic as a creative arts therapy using songwriting as a modality and that is the purpose. Getting out their stories and what is in their minds lingering there and putting it to their favorite type of music is very therapeutic. In our model we also have those that come back to support the new veterans going through the program and that is what is replicated during this process.”

Allison-Standefer expressed that everyone at FSUSA has a deep respect for Veterans and their sacrifices.

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