Arlington: Health Initiative Focuses on Veterans

Arlington: Health Initiative Focuses on Veterans

Teaching health-care providers to ask about patients’ military backgrounds.

Chamberlain College of Nursing in Arlington co-sponsored a veteran’s health awareness campaign last month, shedding light on health issues that more prominently affect veterans than the average civilian. The American Academy of Nursing established the initiative, “Have You Ever Served in the Military?” so that all healthcare providers know to ask about their patients’ military backgrounds when assessing overall health.


Dr. Trish Hughes

The American Academy of Nursing has been promoting “Have You Ever Served in the Military?” since its official start on Labor Day 2013. Today, it exists in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington. It was created in response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s and Jill Biden’s Joining Forces program, which helps the private and public sectors provide adequate services to the nation’s soldiers and veterans, as well as their families.

Chamberlain College of Nursing, which began its nursing education programs in 1889, is one the initiative’s official co-sponsors. Chamberlain offers nursing degrees ranging from Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice to more than 20,000 students nationwide. Dr. Trish Hughes, the president of Chamberlain’s Arlington Campus, said the initiative is an especially important cause in the Washington D.C.-metropolitan area.

“I am not sure what percent of Chamberlain’s total enrollment are military or veterans,” Hughes said. “However, at my campus in Arlington, approximately 16 percent of our student population is military, veteran or their family members.”

Hughes herself is a veteran, having served as an Army nurse in Korea, so knows firsthand the importance of this cause. She said it is imperative for healthcare providers to consider military backgrounds when seeing patients. Making this questioning a part of everyday medical practice starts at institutions like Chamberlain, which establish important habits in the nurses of the future.

“The initiative aims to change the way nurses and other healthcare providers obtain vital information that will help improve the health care provided to our veterans and their families,” Hughes said. “Chamberlain College of Nursing is a co-sponsor of the initiative and educates our students about the role they serve on the front lines of healthcare when it comes to identifying possible health factors or illnesses related to military service. As president of the Arlington campus, my role is to ensure that students are learning to ask the question, ‘have you or someone close to you ever served in the military,’ and that faculty are including content about military-related occupational illnesses and exposures.”

With the help of sponsors like Chamberlain, Hughes added that the American Academy of Nursing recently announced that it will soon be able to launch the campaign nationwide.

Hughes mentioned a number of afflictions and diseases that veterans are prone to encounter.

“Prostate cancer, Type 2 diabetes, viral hepatitis and ischemic heart disease are just a few of the many diseases more common among military veterans,” Hughes said. “An example of unique risks include the high risk for respiratory illnesses and a variety of cancers for veterans exposed to open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans also are at risk for infectious diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis and tuberculosis.”

Last month, Chamberlain displayed posters and handed out cards printed with the appropriate information for veteran students to communicate with their practitioners.

“At my campus, we always recognize and honor the students and colleagues who are veterans,” Hughes said. “We create a poster that communicates our thanks for their service. We give veterans something to identify them as a veteran; this year, we had a flag lapel pin for them. This year, we also provided our students with the Have You Served? pocket cards. And no celebration would be complete without food, so we provided snacks.”

One veteran at Chamberlain College of Nursing’s Arlington campus said he can attest firsthand how soldiers’ medical needs are different from other patients. Reivan Buenaobra, who has been a Chamberlain student since last September, said he is taking a break from the Air Force to go to nursing school and plans to return as an Air Force hospital nurse as soon as he gets his Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Buenaobra was an Air Force first responder and he said it was his experience with military nurses that inspired him to go to school full-time for three years so he could help others in the same capacity. He said it is extremely important that health-care providers are able to identify veterans in order to diagnose patients efficiently.

“There are things that military are members are exposed to that are different from any other given person,” Buenaobra said. “There are things that military service members have to do to be compliant for the military. We have to maintain a certain level of physical fitness. We shoot guns and people are exposed to loud noises over the course of years. There are so many things that could lead to serious health conditions, and health care providers should know what they are.”

Buenaobra, who will graduate in 2016, is proud to be a part of a school that sponsors the Have You Ever Served? initiative. He said he is also proud to be joining such an inspirational group of healthcare providers upon his graduation.

“The nurses I worked with in Afghanistan very much inspired me to do what I’m doing,” Buenaobra said. “In my line of work, I saw how flight nurses worked together to keep people alive and safe. They do everything they can to save every person. It was so inspirational to me.”