Veterans and their family members need reliable health information resources sensitive and pertinent to their needs. They are unique community members with unique life events and experiences. Many of the skills and coping mechanisms veterans developed during service may prove counterproductive or be misunderstood in civilian life. This, in addition to physical injuries and mental health issues, can make readjustment challenging for the individual, family members, and health providers.
Military Health Issues
Our nation’s nearly 24 million veterans have greater rates of obesity and diabetes, and over one-third suffer from arthritis. Suicide rates among veterans are 7-8 times higher than the general population – 1 nearly every 65 minutes. Military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan survived wounds in numbers far greater than in previous wars – some 48,000 – due to advances in body armor, combat medicine, and improved evacuation procedures. However, the injuries sustained – traumatic brain injury, amputation, blindness, spinal cord injuries, and burns – require sophisticated, comprehensive, and often lifetime care. Mental health issues, like post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), are being reported in high numbers of returning service members. Veterans injured in these two wars were more than twice as likely as those uninjured to have difficulty readjusting to civilian life, and nearly half stated strains in family relationships and frequent outbursts of anger. By the end of 2010, 2.15 million service members had been deployed, and of those returning:
- 23% suffered from mild traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- 20% from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- 37% from depression
- 39% reported problems with alcohol
Access to Care
Access to healthcare after deployment can be an additional challenge. Veterans are not automatically eligible for Veterans Affairs (VA) health care. Eligibility is based on veteran status, service-related disabilities, income level, and other factors. Even if an individual is eligible, barriers such as proximity to a VA facility and cost-sharing requirements may affect seeking care in the VA system.
Rural veterans face additional health care challenges for a variety of reasons, including unequal access to higher quality services, shortages in qualified health professionals, lower incomes, and limited transportation options. On average, rural Veterans travel between 30-90 minutes for primary care, and 60-120 minutes for inpatient care. Forty percent of the nation’s veterans live in rural areas; three-fourths of rural veterans are over the age of 55.
Nearly 1 in 7 homeless adults are veterans, with another 1.5 million at risk of homelessness. PTSD, depression, TBI, substance abuse, low income, unemployment, and difficulty reintegrating into society after long and repeated tours of duty contribute to this surge in homelessness. The Open Doors (http://www.usich.gov/opening_doors/) program, initiated to end homelessness by 2015, reported a 17% reduction in 2012. This program, a collaboration of 19 United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) member agencies, works to increase stable and affordable housing, provide opportunities for employment and improve access to healthcare.
There are many government sponsored and non-profit organizations serving the needs of veterans and their families. The Veterans Health Resource Guide (http://hslibraryguides.ucdenver.edu/c.php?g=259562) provides a wealth of information for veterans, family members, care givers, and health providers. This guide has information on military health and exposures, clinical care information, insurance and benefits, recommended reading, and policy information. A few of the resources are highlighted below:
-Dana Abbey, Colorado/Health Information Literacy Coordinator
-Terri Ottosen, Consumer Health Coordinator, NN/LM Southeastern/Atlantic Region
1 Department of Veteran Affairs. Kemp, RN PhD, Janet, and Robert Bossarte, PhD. “Suicide Data Report, 2012.” (2013): N. pag. Web. 01 Aug. 2013. <http://www.va.gov/opa/docs/Suicide-Data-Report-2012-final.pdf>.
2 Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) is the name for the war in Afghanistan. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) is the name of the conflict in Iraq that began on March 20, 2003, and ended on December 15, 2011. On September 1, 2010, Operation New Dawn (OND) became the new name of OIF (Secretary of Defense Memorandum, February 17, 2010).
3 “War and Sacrifice in the Post-9/11 Era.” Social and Demographic Trends. Pew Research Center, 05 Oct. 2011. Web. 01 Aug. 2013. <http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/10/05/war-and-sacrifice-in-the-post-911-era/>.
4 Committee on the Assessment of Readjustment Needs Of Military Personnel, Veterans, And Their Families. “Returning Home from Iraq and Afghanistan: Assessment of Readjustment Needs of Veterans, Service Members, and Their Families.” Institute Of Medicine, 2013. Web. 01 Aug. 2013. <http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13499&page=46>.
5 Skupien, PhD, M.S., R.N, Mary Beth. “The Health Needs of Rural Veterans.” FORUM: Translating Research Into Quality Health Care For Veterans. Department Of Veterans Affairs, Oct. 2010. Web. 01 Aug. 2013. <http://www.hsrd.research.va.gov/publications/forum/oct10/default.cfm?ForumMenu=oct10-1>.