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 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. And suicide rates among veterans are 7-8 times higher than the general population – 1 nearly every 65 minutes.[i] Military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan[ii] 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 sustaining injuries from 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.[iii]
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 the likelihood of seeking care in the VA system. 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[iv]
And a recent Institute of Medicine report found that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experienced inconsistencies in screening and treatment for these physical and mental health issues.
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 60-120 minutes for inpatient care, and 30-90 minutes for primary care. Forty percent of the nation’s veterans live in rural areas; three-fourths of rural veterans are over the age of 55.[v]
Nearly 1 in 7 homeless adults are veterans, with another 1.5 million at risk of homelessness. PTSD, depression, TBI, substance abuse, low incomes, 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.
Libraries are trusted institutions in the community. Library staffs are often members of the communities they serve and understand the diverse information needs of their customers. The National Library of Medicine’s health information resource MedlinePlus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/) provides information about libraries (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/libraries.html) in your community that offer consumer health resources and assistance.
There are many government sponsored and non-profit organizations serving the needs of veterans and their families. The Veterans Health resource guide (http://ow.ly/nrm5V) 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:
The nation’s leading organization on limb loss, offering education, support and advocacy. Provides information on what amputees might experience the first 12 months after limb loss, prosthetics, skin and tissue care, and physical therapy.
Military Families Resource Center
From the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. This sites focus is the mental health of the veteran, spouse, partner, children and caregivers. Information on how to talk with children about deployment and reintegration, how to deal with media coverage of conflicts, and the needs of returning service members.
Women Veterans Health Care
Women are the fastest growing group within the Veteran population. The Department of Veterans Affairs has several initiatives to improve services for women veterans. This site proves information on health care services for women including reproductive care, rehabilitation, mental health, and treatment for military sexual trauma.
MedlinePlus has over 900 health topics, including military health. Resources for coping with deployment and separation, illness and injuries, the mental health effects of military service, and family issues.
Dana Abbey, MLS, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, MidContinental Region, University of Colorado Health Sciences Library, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terri Ottosen, MLIS, AHIP, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern/Atlantic Region, University of Maryland Baltimore Health Sciences and Human Services Library, email@example.com.
[ii] 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).
[iv] 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>.