Vital Patient Insights Help Nurses Optimize Care for Veterans

Approximately 19 million veterans live in the United States, but only about 9 million are enrolled in the Veterans Affairs health system. This means emergency nurses will likely encounter and care for veterans in any emergency department. Veterans have unique medical, mental and social conditions acquired during military service. Emergency nurses must understand these factors to provide relevant nursing assessments and appropriate interventions for the veteran population.

Benjamin Thelen, MSN, RN, CNML

Benjamin Thelen, MSN, RN, CNML, division manager for Acute Outpatient Nursing at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, will lead “Caring for the Veteran Population and VA Emergency Nursing” from 3:30-4:15 p.m. Pacific time on Sept. 22 during Emergency Nursing 2023. The session will provide attendees with a broad understanding of the VA emergency nursing system and unique considerations when caring for veterans.

“When someone joins the military, they usually undergo a cultural transformation,” Thelen said. “They often develop a new value system, become accustomed to the specific rules and laws in the military, and experience a change in perspective regarding how they view themselves versus the group.”

Understanding the cultural background of veterans helps nurses provide optimal care for them, just like any other unique patient population. It also provides care teams with the knowledge to vigilantly monitor certain conditions that disproportionately affect veterans. Thelen will discuss life in the military and how it affects veterans as they transition to civilian life.

“With the veteran population, we often see increased rates of loneliness, there might be transportation issues, or they may not have a strong family structure,” he said. “There are also benefits they receive that many don’t take advantage of. All these factors, and many more, are important considerations for providers to understand how service affects life for these patients after the military.”

The session will also cover the unique structure of the VA health system and how its approach to care differs from those in the private sector. The VA is the largest health system in the United States. Nationally, VA EDs treat more than 2 million veteran patients each year.

Care teams in the VA must account for mental health conditions that can arise from service in the military, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, sexual trauma or substance abuse, according to Thelen. To assist providers, the VA uses special screening tools to account for these conditions and ensure they aren’t ignored while identifying the best options for care.

“We want the audience to leave this session with a better understanding of the veteran population and lessons they can take back to their facility that will prompt them and their colleagues to dig a little bit deeper and optimize the care they provide,” Thelen said.