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Published on November 11, 2019

3 Things to Know About Veterans' Health

Veterans' Health: How We Can All Help

Our veterans sacrifice many things to protect our nation and our freedoms - and it's not easy. When veterans come home, they often return with health issues. Jolene Cannady, DNP, AGPCNP-C, spreads awareness about veterans’ health issues, including what health conditions veterans are at risk for, post-traumatic stress disorder and the transition from military to civilian life.

What Health Conditions Are Veterans At Risk For?

Veterans' health challenges can vary widely depending on when they served.

Vietnam Veterans: Agent Orange was one of the most common substances that Vietnam veterans were exposed to. Exposure to this dangerous chemical substance has been connected to cancers, type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Gulf War Veterans: Veterans who served in the Gulf War often have gastrointestinal issues, headaches, chronic fatigue and memory loss. This combination of symptoms is called Gulf War syndrome. Gulf War veterans have also developed neurological diseases like ALS and multiple sclerosis.

Current Veterans: Today's soldiers are commonly exposed to explosive devices; many have traumatic brain injuries, which can cause short term memory loss and some mood disorders.

How Does the Transition From Military Life to Civilian Life Affect Veterans?

Many soldiers enter the military when they are less than 25 years old, when the brain is still developing, learning and growing. Soldiers fill a very specific role inside the rigorous, structured environment of the military. They develop a family among the other troops. When veterans come home, the change can be difficult for multiple reasons:

  • The environment at home is not as structured as it is in the military. Civilian life lacks the rigorous daily activities of a soldier.
  • Soldiers don't know their role anymore. It's difficult to find a new role in a different environment.
  • Soldiers may lose some of their friends from the military family that they've built. Not everyone back home understands how to approach this topic or what questions to ask. 

What Is PTSD and How Can We All Support Veterans Who Might Be Struggling With It?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that many people experience. In addition to veterans, PTSD can affect people who have been in major car accidents, have experienced sexual trauma, have had a cancer diagnosis and or cancer treatments. Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Having severe anxiety.
  • Being hyper-focused.
  • Feeling depressed.
  • Experiencing flashbacks and/or nightmares.

We can all help those struggling with PTSD by seeking to understand what they're experiencing. It's also important to pay attention to the veteran and soldier when they return home. Knowing what resources are available can be helpful as well; there are resources for veterans at the VA as well as crisis lines and apps to help veterans connect and build support groups.

About the Author

Jolene Cannady, DNP, AGPCNP-C, is an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner with a doctor of nursing practice degree at Crissman Family Practice.

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