November brings fall weather, raking leaves and one of my favorite holidays. No, not Thanksgiving, it is Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day is a day reserved to celebrate members of the U.S. armed forces for their service. Thank you, veterans. Veterans are found in all segments of our society. Some are retired, some have started second careers, and some are struggling with health issues as a result of their service. They comprise both consumers and workforce in health care often with specialization.
Military veterans have training and personas very different from civilians. There are distinct chains of command and protocols that are infrequently broken. They are prepared to defend our rights and freedoms afforded to us within the US. The preparation can be very intense as it is based upon physical and mental endurance. Ultimately, the skill sets acquired throughout training are applicable to many different industries. In fact, there are many things expected of our men and women serving here and abroad that are counterintuitive to the expectations within our medical professions. Military life has a culture of its own. Furthermore, one would argue a difference in culture between the different armed forces. (Have you ever heard a navy officer heckle an air force officer?)
As strong as they are, veterans represent one of our vulnerable populations. The access to medical care can be difficult for those wanting to access the Veteran’s Administration (VA) health system. Perhaps you recall the access issues in the VA system of a few years past. Those who access civilian systems are often blended with the general population without getting the specialized care that they deserve. Over half of the veteran population accesses care through civilian systems through Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance.
The health needs of veterans are unique. They often don’t self-disclose their service to health care workers, so they merge with others. However, there is clinical importance to knowing those serving in the military. Those with combat exposure have higher risks of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, depression, and tobacco use. They also suffer from other war-related injuries such as amputation, potential chemical or radiation exposure and traumatic brain injuries that require extensive rehabilitation. Typically, civilian providers may not be as perceptive or knowledgeable about the health care needs of veterans.
Veteran status should be considered as another demographic identifier. This can help identify gaps in care or health disparities such as the collection of race, ethnicity, and language data. Not understanding the unique needs of the population coupled with the shortage of access within the VA system can make for poor outcomes if not monitored. Civilian health systems can provide excellent care for our veterans, but they need to raise awareness to understand the potential effects upon health.
Thank you to all veterans for your service to our country. Let’s do our veterans a service by identifying and providing them excellent health care.
Jarret Patton is a pediatrician and can be reached on Twitter @doctorjarret.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com