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Why Helping Civilian Providers Understand Military Culture Matters

Protecting the mental health of the force
U.S. Army photo by Dustin Senger

One size does not fit all when it comes to health care. As some service members and veterans feel more comfortable turning to civilian providers, providers can treat them more effectively if they understand military culture.

Presenters at the 2015 Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Summit spoke about how civilian providers can improve their understanding of service members, veterans and their families by learning more about military culture. Providers can use free workshops and seminars, and information on programs that may assist veterans.

“The most important thing we can do is to make an effort to know and learn about the military culture. That will help the relationship grow stronger and better,” said Kim Ruocco, chief external relations officer of the Suicide Prevention and Postvention Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

Experts said that knowledge of military culture is potentially life-changing for patients. Providers who understand the military are more able to identify traits and behaviors that may alert them to other problems service members or veterans face.

“Veterans who are younger don’t trust doctors for medical advice. Most of them search the Internet for information or reach out through social media,” said Dr. Niranjan Karnik, an associate professor at Rush Medical College. As a result, they may not discuss all of their concerns with providers. Primary care providers can apply their understanding of military culture to help identify psychological health needs and ask the right questions during the routine visit, she said.

As more veterans and service members go back to school, it is important that faculty also prepare to interact with this group, especially any learning challenges, said clinical psychologist Glenn Albright. He led participants in a virtual role-play exercise to help them practice culturally-sensitive ways to discuss challenges with student veterans.

Programs and referral resources available to providers include:

DCoE also provides many tools and tips to help civilian providers treat service members.

Comments (2)

  • Thank you for providing this list of great resources. It is also encouraging to see all the free info and training that is available on the VA's Center for PTSD website. The civilian sector is catching up as well by having many online CEU trainings available. It would be great if we all asked our VA regional facilities to send this list to the community providers they fund. They would do well to have a liaison person to interface with community providers as a lack of training can have potentially deadly consequences. Community providers don't know what they don't know!! A grant may be able to address some of these issues, i.e. Community training and networking with between providers.

    • We are so glad you find it helpful!

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This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017.