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Nursing, Veterans and PTSD

April 17, 2012, Volume 58, No. 30

GroupFirst Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden came to the University of Pennsylvania last Wednesday to announce a major initiative by more than 150 of America’s leading nursing organizations and more than 450 nursing schools in 50 states and territories to ensure our nation’s nurses are prepared to help meet the unique health needs of service members, veterans, and their families. Penn President Amy Gutmann welcomed the “two inspiring women” to campus and said Penn is honored to be part of this “vital initiative.”

Nursing leaders—including Penn Nursing Dean Afaf Meleis—have committed to educating current and future nurses on how to recognize and care for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other combat-related issues. Collectively, this effort will reach over three million nurses in nearly every health care setting and every community in America. Dean Meleis told the First Lady, “you have come to the right university.” She added, “care based on science is what nurses do.”

Joining Forces is turning to nurses to identify, treat, and conduct research on PTSD since attention to PTSD is a significant component of Joining Forces which was created one year ago by the First Lady and Second Lady to champion wellness, education, and employment among military service members and their families.

Dr. Biden said, “Our military families deserve the very best efforts of each of us, to ease the burdens created by their service to our country. It is our sacred obligation to show our military families that we truly appreciate their sacrifices on our behalf.”

Mrs. Obama said, “nurses are the front line of America’s health care system. Every day, with your hard work, with your skill, your compassion, nurses determine the quality of care that we all receive.”

After more than 10 years of war, nearly 50,000 of America’s military members have been wounded, many of them severely. These are the visible wounds of war. But the invisible wounds which are the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—PTSD and TBI—have impacted roughly one in six of this country’s veterans. Mrs. Obama said, “These combat-related mental health challenges are natural, normal, human responses to the violence of war. They are not in any way a sign of weakness, and they should never be a source of shame or a cause for stigma.” She urged veterans to ask for help, that it is not a sign of weakness.

She told the nurses and nursing students, “we know that by joining forces with all of you and millions of nurses across this country, we can serve our men and women in uniform and their families as well as they have served this country.

Though the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration continue their efforts to address and treat PTSD, half of today’s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seek care from health care providers outside the VA system. Nurses are often the first-line providers of care for veterans with PTSD and nurse scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing are leaders in fundamental research on this life-altering disorder.

Almanac - April 17, 2012, Volume 58, No. 30