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Veterans, Nurses, and PTSD

November 12, 2012

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

Vietnam Women’s Memorial, Washington, DC. Courtesy of Kay Schwebke.

Veteran’s Day was officially yesterday, November 11, but many will mark it today with a day off from work and school and for some reason, shopping. I’m not sure when or why Veterans Day became associated with bargains, but it seems especially out of place this year, as we hear more and more about the issues being faced by the thousands of new veterans. As I note in my November editorial, an Institute of Medicine report estimates that 13% to 20% of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan “have or may develop PTSD.”

Last month, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Brigadier General (Ret.) Bill Bester, former chief of the Army Nurse Corps. I interviewed General Bester about his career and veterans’ health issues. The general was engaging and candid about the difficulties returning veterans face and he spoke about the post-deployment transition period that can be difficult for returning veterans.

He also spoke about his current activities as a senior advisor for the Jonas Foundation’s Veterans Healthcare Program, which supports scholarships for nurses pursuing doctoral degrees related to veteran-specific health issues. The program supports nurses pursuing both PhD as well as DNP degrees and hopes to focus on researching the issues as well as implementing best practices.

With many veterans accessing care outside the VA system, it’s important for nurses in all settings to be knowledgeable about issues many returning veterans may have. General Bester noted that nurses are often the ones that pick up clues, from a veteran accessing care or from a family member, that something is not right. We asked contributing editor Donna Sabella to address PTSD in her November column, Mental Health Matters, and she offers some information on recognizing PTSD and resources to help veterans get the help they need.

And we must also recognize and support our nurse colleagues who were subject to many of the same stressors as combat soldiers as well as the stress of seeing a continual parade of severely injured young men and women. On our Web site, we have a collection of audio interviews and poems being read aloud by nurses who served in Vietnam. There’s one poem by Penny Kettlewell that I think is especially poignant in describing a nurse’s wartime experience. It’s worth taking a few minutes to listen to it in remembrance and to honor the service of our colleagues.

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