Des Moines, IA

Julia Van Liew gained skills in the University of Iowa’s Clinical Psychology Program that prepared her to improve the quality of life for older Iowa veterans with chronic diseases.

Van Liew, who earned her PhD in psychology at the UI in 2016, is a clinical psychologist at the VA Central Iowa Health Care System in Des Moines. In this role, she works primarily in interdisciplinary outpatient geriatric clinics, including geriatric primary care and a geriatric-focused neurology clinic. She also works in inpatient medical rehabilitation and hospice and palliative care units, with veterans who suffer from complex medical conditions. 

“Our veterans gave up a lot by serving in the military, so it’s rewarding for me to be a part of a system that tries to help them,” Van Liew says. “I am impressed with the quality of care provided by the VA. I see it making a difference in peoples’ lives.”

By integrating psychological assessment and intervention into interdisciplinary health care settings, she assists veterans in managing conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. She helps them with coping skills and different ways to think about their personal situations.

Van Liew also conducts brief cognitive assessments to help detect and monitor cognitive changes.

“I bring cognitive screening into the primary care clinic, so we can detect changes early and help to keep the veterans safer in their homes,” she says.

Communication is key

When she isn’t working directly with veterans, Van Liew trains VA staff on how to effectively discuss end of life care with veterans earlier in the disease process, to better integrate their values, goals, and preferences into their health care.

“We shouldn’t be waiting until the end to ask people what they want,” Van Liew says.

She says veterans can experience significant distress about their health conditions and the aging process. Some have long-term health problems brought on by exposure to Agent Orange and other chemicals of war.

The UI alumna also provides services for caregivers of veterans with dementia. Caregivers, unlike doctors and psychologists, experience the ups and downs of everyday life with their veterans.

“The more time that goes on, the more caregivers are doing,” Van Liew says. “They are the boots on the ground. They help manage things at home.”

UI program provides big opportunities

Van Liew, who received the Graduate College’s Presidential Graduate Research Fellowship as a doctoral student, credits the UI for giving her excellent clinical psychology training. Her advisor was Professor Alan Christensen, and her dissertation focused on associations between depression and unintentional weight loss suffered by head and neck cancer patients.

“I can’t say enough good things about the program,” she says. “It gave me great fundamental skills to work with people going through challenging life situations. I had training opportunities at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the Iowa City VA, which supplemented my classroom and research experience and gave me the ability to use those skills with veterans."