Teaching Care of Veterans and Their Families in an Online Nursing Program

Monday, 9 November 2015

Penny R. Marzalik, PhD, APRN, RN, CNM, IBCLC
Nursing, Mount Carmel College of Nursing, Columbus, OH, USA
Tara Lynn Spalla, PhD, RN
Mount Carmel College of Nursing, Columbus, OH, USA

Due to improvised explosive devices, along with other weapons of war, United States (US) veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) have experienced more post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) than at any other time in American history. It is estimated that as many as 18.5 percent of these veterans suffer from PTSD or depression and 19.5 percent report experiencing a probable TBI during deployment (Rand, 2008).  The diagnosis of PTSD is high among veterans exposed to trauma themselves or who have witnessed trauma to another (USDVA, 2014).  Further, as a result of the injury of war, it is estimated that 22 US veterans take their own lives each day (Kemp & Bossarte, 2012).  Of OEF/OIF discharged veterans, just over half receive care from a US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility.  The remaining veterans obtain private health care in their local communities, particularly those without access to nearby VA facilities, such as residents of rural communities (National Council for Behavioral Health, 2012).  Clearly, this data supports the need for a new skillset within the health care community, especially for registered nurses who work around the clock and calendar providing health care. 

The average age of a registered nurse in the US is 44-years-old.  Most did not have veteran-specific content in their original nursing programs.  Today many nurses are caring for returning veterans exhibiting symptoms of PTSD and TBI, and lack the knowledge and clinical skills to competently provide appropriate care.  A unique challenge to fill this educational gap exists in RN-BSN Completion Programs. 

Joining Forces, established in 2011, is a 3-part national initiative created to serve America’s military families through employment, education and wellness.  The wellness component “encourage[s] and facilitate[s] commitments to train and educate healthcare providers on the unique needs of service members, veterans, their families, and caregivers” (Whitehouse.gov, 2015, para. 4).  This initiative provides a call to action and is supported by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2012) and the National League for Nursing (2012).

Teaching/learning strategies that incorporate care of veterans must be adaptable to online education if this is the delivery method used for the nursing program.  One method for threading content related to the care of veterans into the curriculum for an Online RN-BSN Completion Program will be presented.  Methods for obtaining faculty commitment in this venture will be explained.