Have You Ever Served?

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Have You Ever Served?

The importance of asking about military service

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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“Have you ever served in the military?” That may be the newest question nurses are instructed to ask their patients as part of a new program to improve healthcare for America’s veterans.

Veterans’ Unique Healthcare Needs
Veterans and servicemembers have often traveled to places or come in contact with environments and materials that carry unique health risks. For example, the open burn pits commonly used in Iraq and Afghanistan can lead to leukemia and multiple respiratory illnesses. That makes it important for healthcare providers to recognize those factors and ask patients the right questions.

To help prepare nurses to ask those questions, the American Academy of Nurses (AAN) recently announced a new initiative to provide nurses and other healthcare workers with a pocket card listing the most common health problems associated with military service along with questions the provider should ask.         

This information will assist providers in identifying possible links between that service and health problems or illnesses.

A National Initiative

The initiative is part of the AAN’s response to the Joining Forces Campaign, a nonpartisan comprehensive national initiative led by First Lady Michelle Obama to improve the nation’s support of servicemembers and veterans. Fewer than 30 percent of veterans receive care through the VA system, and other healthcare providers may not be aware of or understand the health needs of former servicemembers and their families.

“This single question, ‘Have you ever served in the military?’ can be the key to timely and adequate assessments, diagnosis and treatment,” says Linda Schwartz, an AAN fellow and commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

For example, to identify the extent of a brain injury sustained during combat, it would be important to ask, “During your service, did you experience heavy artillery fire, vehicular or aircraft accidents or explosions, such as an IED or grenade?” If so, follow up by asking about loss of consciousness, being dazed or seeing stars, not remembering the event or any previous diagnosis of concussion or head injury.

The AAN program is now rolling out in 10 states, including California. The AAN hopes to serve 1 million vets during the initial rollout and expand the program to all 50 states within three years. See www.haveyoueverserved.com for further information.


Photo above: The Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, D.C., is dedicated to the 11,000 American women who served in the Vietnam War, 90 percent of whom were nurses. The memorial depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier. The memorial was designed by Glenna Goodacre and dedicated on Nov. 11, 1993. Photo courtesy www.nps.gov.


I served as an Army nurse at the 67th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon, South Vietnam, in 1967 and 1968. I was an operating nurse then. Twenty-five years later, I was in Washington, D.C., for the dedication of a memorial for women Vietnam veterans. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project regularly receives letters from veterans attempting to find the nurses who took care of them when they were wounded. An excerpt from one such letter says, “I have no idea who was there when I needed them the most, but to whoever you may be, again I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”     — Marti Pecukonis, RN

Excerpted and reprinted with permission from www.vietnamwomensmemorial.org

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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