How Healthcare Providers Can Better Serve the Needs of Military Veterans

Military Veterans
Military Veterans

While most clinicians don’t ask about a patient’s military history, a simple question could greatly impact their care. Training in efficient and sensitive ways to screen patients for military service can help ensure veterans get the right treatment.

But as VA shifts billions of dollars to outside providers, are these providers ready? A RAND study found that most private-sector doctors lack the specialized knowledge to treat veterans.

Ask Your Patients About Their Military Service

In one study conducted in New York, a group of healthcare providers found that only 19% of primary care providers regularly asked their patients about military service history. However, this number may be much lower nationwide.

Medical professionals should be encouraged to ask their patients about their military background and to document it in their patient records. Having this information on file can help to connect veterans with the services and benefits they’re eligible for.

Additionally, education on veteran culture and the health-related sequelae of military participation can improve healthcare providers’ comfort in addressing common conditions among veterans, like PTSD and substance abuse. Many participants of this RAND study indicated a desire for additional training in this area.

Offer Veteran-Friendly Treatments

Although veterans have access to one of the most extensive healthcare systems in the country, it is not always convenient or efficient. Certain veterans — such as those with lower incomes or those living in rural areas, rely more heavily on healthcare veterans and often experience appointment delays.

A recent regional pilot study found that civilian primary care providers rarely ask patients about their military service history. However, nearly 3/4 of the PCPs who were polled believe it is important for them to know this information as it may affect the type of treatment they provide their veteran patients. Participants in the pilot also cited their desire for education that covers military culture and deployment-related health stressors.

Encourage Your Patients to See the VA

The VA has taken many steps to improve care, from sophisticated information technology systems that support coordinated health care to monitoring programs that motivate staff to comply with best practices. The VA also has strong leadership and a culture of innovation that may facilitate the implementation of new technologies and techniques.

When healthcare providers learn more about military culture and the effects of deployment on medical conditions, they might be better equipped to identify and respond to these issues in their patients. In a regional pilot study of veterans’ care in western New York, providers expressed a desire for education that spanned medical and psychosocial issues.

As the VA shifts billions in funding to outside providers, these private-sector providers must be prepared for the unique health challenges veterans will present. As a start, asking about veterans’ military service can help shape patient outcomes for years.

Support Veterans’ Rights

Veterans are a clinically complex population with a wide range of health conditions. This includes chronic musculoskeletal problems from military training and deployments, such as tinnitus and joint pain; hearing loss and traumatic brain injury; and PTSD and depression.

NACHC trains community health centers to identify and assist veteran patients in their local communities. We also support partnerships between health centers, the VA, and third-party administrators to strengthen community resources for this vulnerable group.

The quality of VA care is high, but the timeliness of access to care varies by center and type of service. We must examine whether current standards are appropriate for a transforming VA system and develop methods to compare performance benchmarks routinely. We must also address the challenges of purchasing care from the private sector.

Memorialize Your Loved Ones

As a healthcare provider, you may not have a direct connection to veterans who seek care from your practice. But you can do your part to honor their service by showing respect and addressing their health concerns.

You can help veterans find jobs by encouraging your patients to apply for veteran-friendly positions. You can also support policymakers who fight for veterans’ rights and ensure they receive the benefits they deserve.

Lastly, you can volunteer to help veterans in need. You can knit scarves for soldiers or donate your frequent flier miles which uses them to bring family members to their loved ones’ bedsides during medical treatment. You can also volunteer your time to teach life skills to a veteran’s family or friends.