Virginia Hospital Veterans Find Healing One Purr At A Time

Virginia Hospital Veterans Find Healing One Purr At A Time
Tom the cat in Salem VA MC Facebook

Cat lover or not, it’s hard not to fall in love with Tom, the resident cat counselor at Salem VA Medical Center in Salem, Virginia.


Veterans have seen so much in this world. While they stay in Salem VAMC, this feline friend makes round and help them get through the hardest time in their life. Tom sits by their side, sometimes, until their death.

Tom may not speak, but its presence provide the needed “empathy” for the hospital’s residents. These veterans receive rehabilitation, hospice, palliative care and long-term skilled nursing.

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Army veteran James Gearhart of Bassett, Virginia, shared his experience in an interview with TODAY. He stayed at Salem while being treated for throat cancer. He had been recently discharged and told the newspaper that the rehabilitation was more bearable because of Tom.

“You can’t beat a good, purring, loving kitty cat,” Bassett related.

Bassett described that Tom would know when he was feeling pain and having a difficult time. The cat would stay by his side for long hours.

The warmth feeling and purring created by Tom seemed to energize Bassett.

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Dr. Blake Lipscomb, hospital’s chief of extended care service, shared how Tom helped him bear a difficult day when he had to declare the death of one veteran.

“Tom looked up at me and meowed. He had been with the veteran and his family at a time that was hardest for them, doing exactly what we wanted him to do — to help make a more low-stress, homelike environment,” Lipscomb explained.

Hospital staff said some patients and families of patients did not readily accept Tom. Some even said they were “allergic”. But later on, they found them giving treats to Tom

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