The Joining Force campaign developed by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden challenged colleges of nursing around the country to work to improve the healthcare of our veterans. To date over 660 nursing programs in all 50 states have joined forces to included veteran centric healthcare issues into nursing and advanced practice nursing curriculum with several colleges including specific needs of military families in their curriculum. In 2012, the authors developed the first online “Introduction to Military and Veteran Health” course aimed at educating nurses to care for veterans in the civilian healthcare arena.
Nurses are on the frontlines of healthcare often working in clinics, hospitals, and community agencies, and may be the first to encounter a veteran in crisis or experiencing physical and/or psychological co-morbidities secondary to their military service. Due to the potential correlation between military service and physical and psychological health comorbidities, it is imperative for all healthcare providers to screen veterans for a history of military service and to be educated on how to provide appropriate care to this vulnerable population. In addition, knowledge regarding resources and referrals available to veterans in the community is critical to meeting the needs of veterans and their families. Prompt identification and treatment is imperative in order to decrease the deleterious health consequences related to military service and to improve healthcare outcomes of veterans receiving in the civilian sector.
The “Introduction to Military and Veteran Health” course is an eight module online course that helps bridge the knowledge gap of civilian providers by addressing military culture, the Veteran Administration healthcare system, conflict specific risk factors and co-morbidities as well as knowledge regarding referral sources/resources in the community, physical and psychological wounds of war, impact of military service on military families, and women veteran specific healthcare needs to include military sexual trauma. Students who have taken the course indicate an awareness in the need to ask all patients if they have served in the military and an increase in knowledge and comfort level regarding addressing military service related healthcare risk factors and comorbidities as well as increase knowledge of resources and referral sources in the community.