Veterans and Their Families Have Special Health Care Needs, According to Veterans Advocate

Dr. Linda Schwartz, a Vietnam veteran and an advocate for veterans and their families, spoke during the 50th annual Harriet Cook Carter Lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at Duke University School of Nursing.

Dr. Schwartz served as a nurse during the Vietnam War and is now head of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Connecticut as well as an advisor to the US Department of Veterans Affairs on issues relating to women veterans, readjustment of combat veterans, seriously mentally-ill veterans, and homeless veterans. A video of her talk can be seen here.

Speaking to a room of students, health care professionals, faculty, and staff at Duke University School of Nursing, Dr. Schwartz said less than 20 percent of all veterans use the services of Veterans Affairs medical facilities or clinics, and health care professionals need to start identifying veterans among their patients.

"The question every health care provider needs to ask is ‘did you serve in the military’ and then help connect them to the services they need," said Dr. Schwartz. "Veterans are returning to communities across our country, and every health care provider needs to be prepared to help them and their families."

The issues affecting veterans also impact their families; Dr. Schwartz mentioned that one million children have had at least one parent deployed for active duty. Dr. Schwartz asked the audience how many of them have had family members deployed more than once. Several hands stayed in the air as she asked whose family members had been deployed twice, three times, or even as many as five times.

"We are still trying to understand the effect of multiple deployments and how it influences the family," said Dr. Schwartz. "This is a game changing moment in health care for veterans in the US. You are going to be the first line of identifying who are these folks, what are their needs and the needs of their families."

Dr. Schwartz also told the room that veterans want their health care providers to give honest answers and simply stated facts. She encouraged them to leave politics at the door—don’t judge, don’t let pity or anger influence interactions—and tap into the veteran's inherent strengths.

"These are people who are survivors of a hostile atmosphere, and they have qualities that you want to build on, where they can learn how to help themselves," she said.

The annual Harriet Cook Carter Lecture series gives recognition to nursing as an academic discipline within Duke University and as a profession within society; stimulates ideas for improving nursing education, nursing service, and nursing research; and encourages interest, support, and ideas for improving health care and health education in society.

The event was co-sponsored by Duke University School of Nursing, the Beta Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, and Duke University Health System Clinical Education & Professional Development.

ABOUTA diverse community of scholars and clinicians, Duke University School of Nursing is educating the next generation of transformational leaders in nursing. We advance nursing science in issues of global importance and foster the scholarly practice of nursing. In 2011, U.S. News and World Report ranked Duke among the top seven graduate schools of nursing in the nation. The National Institutes of Health awarded $4.3 million in research funding to the Duke School of Nursing (Oct. 1, 2011, through Sept. 30, 2012), making it one of the top 10 nursing schools engaged in NIH-funded research. We offer the masters, PhD, and doctor of nursing practice degrees, as well as an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing degree to students who have previously graduated from college. More than 750 students are enrolled in the Duke School of Nursing, one of the largest numbers in the school's 80-year history.

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