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Honoring Our Veterans, and Addressing Their Health



In this age of political correctness and heightened sensitivity, the word veteran still commands feelings of pride, patriotism, and admiration in most people. The words “thank you for your service” have become a more common response to learning of one’s military history. However, veterans often carry the weight of their service experiences and may also bear the burden of chronic health conditions unique to their military service.


Are veterans any different when it comes to medical conditions?

In a word, yes. While most people immediately think of PTSD, there are many other significant chronic conditions with a higher prevalence among veterans including, but not limited to:

1. TBI- Traumatic Brain Injury

2. Diabetes

3. Cancer

4. Chronic pain syndromes

5. COPD and other respiratory conditions

6. Hypertension

7. Heart disease

8. GERD- Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease

9. Hearing loss

10. Mental health (includes any type)

11. PTSD- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Healthcare options for veterans:

1. VA Healthcare System:

Pros-

a. Access to a wide network of hospitals, clinics, and medical centers across the country.

b. Cost- The VA provides a wide spectrum of services at little or no cost to most veterans.

c. Expertise- It provides expertise caring for patients with many conditions, especially TBI, mental health conditions, as well as orthopedic and musculoskeletal conditions.



Cons-

a. Integration- As with many large healthcare organizations, veterans often face challenges regarding integration of care, making chronic care management a challenge.

b. Wait times- Often extended waiting is reported for certain types of care.

c. Access- May be limited requiring extended travel for veterans in rural areas.


2. Non-VA Healthcare Options: The VA’s Choice Program allows eligible veterans to receive healthcare services from non-VA providers.

Pros-

a. Greater flexibility choosing provider location and personal preferences.

b. Wait times are often decreased.

c. Specialty care- Broader range of services and specialists are often available.

d. Access- Easier geographic access limiting travel time

e. Innovative treatments- Some non-VA healthcare providers offer cutting-edge treatments and therapies that could complement traditional approaches to managing chronic conditions.

Cons-

a. Some non-VA providers may not be aware of veteran specific issues.

b. Veterans may not be aware of non-VA options.


3. Innovative Care Models- There are emerging models of veteran focused healthcare bringing cutting edge technology and integrated care, all with a patient-centric focus. One such example is FlagShip Health (https://flagshiphealth.org) in San Antonio, who is deploying a comprehensive model of integrated, connected, veteran focused care. This model is utilizing innovative technology allowing the patient to control their health information sharing, comprehensive virtual care including personalized remote health monitoring, regional network integration, all within the Chronic Care Management model.


As we express our gratitude to veterans for their service on this Veterans Day, it is essential to prioritize their health and well-being. Navigating the veteran healthcare landscape can be complex, with benefits and challenges associated with both VA and non-VA healthcare. Additionally, there are exciting, innovative care models emerging that hopefully will provide our veterans opportunities to receive the quality care they deserve.


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