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:
- Center for Deployment Psychology provides education, tools and resources to help health care professionals become more aware of military culture and how to apply this knowledge in their clinical practice.
- PDF: “Understanding the Military: The Institution, The Culture and the People,” a handbook for health care providers offered by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Give an Hour offers military mental health care training modules, and free continuing education credits, for civilian providers who donate their time to treat service members and veterans.
- The Training Institute at Home Base offers free, certified online and in-person training for providers. Tracks include military culture, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Road Home program at Rush provides individualized care for veterans and family members.
- Emory Healthcare is a veterans program that helps treat PTSD, TBI, military sexual trauma, anxiety and depression.
- Community Provider Toolkit from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The site offers a free course on military culture for which providers can earn continuing education credit, as well as brief tip sheets on various issues related to health care for service members and veterans.
DCoE also provides many tools and tips to help civilian providers treat service members.