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Caring for our veterans, today and every day

Every November, we set aside a day to recognize all those who served in our military. Veterans Day is important, but it’s also important to recognize that veterans need our support throughout the year — especially to make health easier.

With the fourth-largest veteran population in the country and one of the largest National Guard components, Pennsylvania has a rich military and veteran culture. Our veterans range in service from the World Wars to the War on Terror, and with this large veteran population come the complex challenges associated with military service, most of which are related to health.

From 2010 to 2017, I served in the U.S. Army, and I know all too well that veterans face health challenges and situations rarely encountered in civilian life. There are the visible wounds, like blunt trauma and amputations, but there are also the invisible injuries, like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. And even if veterans didn’t experience trauma in combat, they may have witnessed or suffered trauma, like sexual assault, at home. Some health challenges are not immediately known, such as those due to exposure to toxic substances like Agent Orange during the Vietnam era or burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The compounding effect of military service on health follows all veterans after their service. Research shows that military veterans are more likely to suffer from chronic illness than those who do not serve. And while suicide rates remain high among veterans, they are still hesitant to seek assistance for mental health, substance abuse and homelessness due to stigma and access issues.

Although the Veterans Administration (VA) works tirelessly to care for our veterans, not all veterans receive their healthcare from it. In 2017, just 30 percent of all veterans received some healthcare from the VA. That leaves most veterans relying on civilian healthcare providers for care. But according to a 2018 RAND Corp. survey, only 2.3 percent of healthcare providers “meet all criteria for readiness to deliver timely, culturally competent, high quality care to veterans.”

To provide our military veterans the support they need and deserve, we must be aware of these challenges and take steps to overcome them. At Geisinger, we’re educating staff on military culture and healthcare concerns and asking patients if they’ve ever served in the U.S. military. We’re hiring veterans and making it easier for our employees to serve in the National Guard and Reserves. We’re committed to providing culturally competent care and making better health easier for all veterans — and we are not alone. Local, state and national veteran support organizations are also committed to supporting those who served our nation.

This Veterans Day, in addition to thanking the brave men and women who served our country, take time to learn about their service and how you can support them throughout the year and for years to come.

Chris Grill is program manager of military and veterans affairs at Geisinger.

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