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United States veterans are a multifaceted population with a distinct culture that includes, but is not limited to, values, customs, ethos, selfless duty, codes of conduct, implicit patterns of communication, and obedience to command (Olenick, Flowers, & Diaz, 2015, para. 1). Veterans have experiences that no civilian could begin to fathom. Mental health and substance abuse disorders, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), suicide, pain management, homelessness, and traumatic brain injuries can be a common occurrence for veterans returning from war. The advancement of medical technology has allowed servicemen to survive injuries that can be linked with mental scarring, such as a limb amputation. Although, this can lead to certain health disparities making it difficult for the individual to settle back into ‘normal’ civilian life, not only putting stressors on them but also their families. According to Weber & Clark (2016), there are currently 22 million veterans that live in the United States but nearly 60% of veterans are not enrolled in the Veteran Administration (VA) Health Care System and are relying on other resources or not receiving the care they need at all. The two main health care needs of veterans are mental health needs and helping those veterans and their families understand their healthcare benefits and how they can better access those benefits.
Nurses today are often at the front lines of providing services to the veteran population. The most crucial way that nurses can advocate for this population and their family is to be highly trained and competent when it comes to the military culture and to help veterans understand how to navigate the VA system to increase their access to healthcare. According to Begley (2010), successfully advocating for clients requires compassion, courage, empowerment, and commitment. As a nurse, understanding this concept can help to “ensure high quality, veteran-specific patient care, and potentially decrease the health disparities within the veteran population,” (Weber & Clark, 2016, para. 3).
Nurses need to understand what specific requirements are necessary to ensure veterans are eligible for health benefits. Determining the veteran’s minimum lengths of service, type of discharge, environmental exposures, and psychosocial characteristics of the time period in which the individual served are important first steps. When determining mental health status of a serviceman it is vital to develop a good rapport with both the individual themselves as well as the family. The most important step for nurses when advocating for veterans is to educate themselves on the primary issues. Immersing one’s self in veteran and military specific organizations, pushing for faculty development opportunities that provide trainings on veteran issues, and attending seminars and courses specific to the military population are all examples of how to advocate for these servicemen and their families.
Begley, A. M. (2010). On being a good nurse: Reﬂections on the past and preparing for the future. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 16, 525-532. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-172X.2010.01878.
Olenick, M., Flowers, M., & Diaz, V. J. (2015). US veterans and their unique issues: Enhancing health care professional awareness. Advances in Medical Education and Practice, 6, 635-639. https://doi.org/10.2147/AMEP.S89479
Weber, J., & Clark, A. (2016, May 18). Legislative: Providing veteran-specific healthcare. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 21(2). https://doi.org/10.3912/OJIN.Vol21No02LegCol01
Westphal, R. J., & Convoy, S. P. (2015). Military culture implications for mental health and nursing care. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 20. Retrieved from http://ojin.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Vol-20-2015/No1-Jan-2015/Military-Culture-Implications.html