Community Health

VA dietitian receives state award

Concern for her mother’s health prompted a teenaged Valerie Lively’s interest in dietetics.

“My mom was a diabetic. I went to several classes with her about her weight,” said Lively, who as a teen also volunteered in a Murray, Kentucky hospital where she was assigned to cafeteria duty.

From there, Lively studied dietetics at Murray State University in Kentucky and received an internship in an Augusta-area hospital in 1997. She’s spent more than 25 years total as a dietitian.

She was recently awarded a high honor in her profession. Earlier this month, the Georgia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics announced that Lively, a registered dietitian at VA Augusta Health Care Systems, as its Georgia Outstanding Dietitian of the Year. Nominated by her professional peers in the Augusta District Dietetics Association, Lively received the award in a ceremony in Atlanta.

She serves as the MOVE! Weight Management Program coordinator, where she incorporates her expertise as a certified diabetes care and education specialist to help veterans adopt and sustain healthy lifestyle behaviors.

She has had nine years of experience where she had individual appointments with outpatient clients and has had 13 years at VA Augusta Health Care Systems – more than three years of which she has been the MOVE! Weight Management Program Coordinator.

She can point to many success stories including one veteran who lost more than 100 pounds.

He “donated a wooden clock he made with the MOVE! Weight Management Program logo on it to thank the program and encourage others,” Lively said.

Valerie Lively with the clock made by a Move! participant. Ron Baxley Jr./Augusta Good News

He learned about making healthy choices through the program and implemented them.

“At a seafood place, he ordered salmon and asparagus instead of a larger seafood platter. He saw that one of his relatives ordered the big Captain’s Feast. He told me he liked the salmon and asparagus just as good,” Lively said. 

She encourages program participants to make healthier, more natural choices. 

“Seventy percent of American food is processed food,” she said. “If I can move the needle just a little bit toward healthier choices, changes can be made.”

The program focuses on behavior, nutrition and exercise and has 16 modules including motivation, personal tracking and better and worse choices in food groups.

“We also have what we call non-scale victories,” Lively said.

She said no weight loss must occur with these victories, but they are the beginnings of lifestyle changes.

For example, she said a veteran who for a long time has not done much walking might say, “I walked to the end of the road and back for the first time.”

Lively also encourages veterans to cook at home and to flavor food with things other than salt and guides them to make a list for the grocery store with healthy choices and stick to it.

Also, her department has a display which shows the large amounts of sugar in everyday beverage choices at the store, including 1% chocolate milk.

Lively’s MOVE! Program was in-person before COVID-19.

“We had to move to virtual almost overnight,” Lively said.

She said they moved to having videos on a VA app which the veterans could access from their smartphones or laptops.

Lively said they also offered telephone lifestyle coaching with over 2,500 consultations as well as weight management information after hours.

Their scorecard shows their access to care is higher than the national average.

All of these reasons and more earned Lively her award.

“She has demonstrated leadership and service by consistently accepting challenging opportunities that provide a positive impact on veteran care,” said Sheri Loflin, Clinical Nutrition Manager at the VA Augusta Health Care System. “Valerie is an exceptional registered dietitian nutritionist with a genuine compassion for using her knowledge and skills to make a difference in the lives of others.” 

“Honored is an understatement (when it comes to my award),” said Lively. “I feel so very fortunate to work with wonderful people at a great place and to be able to do good work.”

Lively said, “I love what I do. I love seeing a veteran change his lifestyle.” 

Ron Baxley Jr. is a correspondent for Augusta Good News. He’s also the author of several books inspired by the Wizard of Oz as well as a graphic novel based on his Corgi, Ziggy.