Review by VA Clinicians Assists Health Care Providers


From a Department of Veterans Affairs News Release


WASHINGTON, June 12, 2012 – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinicians offer a comprehensive review of the health concerns of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and practical management guidelines for primary care providers in an article entitled, “Post Deployment Care for Returning Combat Veterans.”

The article is published in the “Journal of General Internal Medicine,” the official journal of the Society of General Internal Medicine.

“We at VA are always seeking ways to improve the quality of health care we provide to our veterans,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. “This article provides valuable insight into the fastest-growing segment of the veteran population at a time they are currently returning from combat.”

Since September 11, 2001, approximately 2.4 million military personnel have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to VA officials. The health care needs of this particular patient population are complex, officials said, and require a well-integrated interdisciplinary approach to care.

The article, written by Dr. Juliette F. Spelman, Dr. Stephen C. Hunt, Dr. Karen H. Seal, and Dr. Lucile Burgo-Black, reviews how combat deployments can impact the physical, psychological, and social health of veterans and describes their unique health care needs. This includes the need for assessment and management of injuries associated with blast exposures [including mild traumatic brain injury] as well as mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse.

Other important health concerns discussed include chronic musculoskeletal pain, medically unexplained symptoms, complications from environmental exposures, heightened suicide risk, sleep disturbances, and impairments in family, occupational and social functioning.

The article summarizes evidence which supports elevated frequencies of physiological and behavioral cardiovascular risk factors, including hypertension and tobacco use, raising concerns about future health implications for these veterans. In light of relationships between physical, psychological and psychosocial concerns in this population, the VA authors recommend an interdisciplinary approach to care directed toward mitigating the long-term health impacts of combat.

This comprehensive review by VA clinicians will help both VA and non-VA health providers offer veterans the best possible care as they return from combat. It affords all the opportunity to develop greater collaboration between VA and community providers to ensure optimal post-deployment care and services for our returning combat veterans and their families.

Each VA medical center has a highly specialized Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn care management team in place that coordinates and oversees transition and care for service members and veterans. A dedicated case manager is assigned to work with the service member/veteran and family to screen for case management needs and implement a plan of care to completion, or as long as needed.

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