LEHIGH VALLEY, PA; November 6, 2013 – An alliance of every hospital in the Lehigh Valley, created by the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council (LVMAC) in 2011, is announcing an initiative to identify veterans during the hospital registration process. Much in the same way patients are asked if they feel safe in their home, all adult patients soon will be asked whether they are a veteran. Completion is targeted for 31 March 2014.
Leaders from Coordinated Health, Easton Hospital, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Sacred Heart Healthcare System, St. Luke’s University Health Network, and Westfield Hospital have been steadfastly committed to this groundbreaking alliance which seeks to enhance local veteran’s health care. As a result, it is believed the Lehigh Valley will be the first area in the country where all the local hospitals in a community will screen for veterans with a collective purpose.
“The experiences and environments military service personnel endure can contribute to their overall health, morbidities, and consequent need for services. Health conditions may go undiagnosed if the clinicians are unaware of their patients’ military service,” commented Eric Johnson, Co-Chair for the project and an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran.
Enrollment of veterans for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care has significantly increased to almost 40 percent across the nation as a result of their aging or the current war. Only 25 percent actually used the VA healthcare system last fiscal year, relying instead on community healthcare systems. Despite the availability of VA healthcare in our area, less than 17 percent of all veterans in the Lehigh Valley used it one or more times in a year and most had dual care. The majority of veterans and their families living here depend upon community hospital networks when they seek care.
Alexander Alex, the other LVMAC Co-Chair and a recently retired officer from the U.S. Air Force Medical Service Corps who was the Reserve’s Department of Defense consultant on medical benefits, stated veterans transitioning back into civilian life often have unique needs. They sometimes sustain long-term illnesses or life-threatening injuries. “Proactive awareness and education on the part of the local, professional medical establishment is therefore necessary. Veterans’ care nowadays requires a community-wide investment and commitment to meet their needs,” he added.
How to properly ask the questions and how veterans felt about being identified were, at first, concerns. After careful survey and evaluation, the hospitals decided to proceed with screening to identify veterans late this year. The response of veterans was overwhelmingly positive to the questions proposed.
The ultimate goal, once a veteran is identified, is to have practitioners treat veterans’ diseases and ailments with a full understanding that their healthcare issues may be the result of their previous military service (for example, musculoskeletal injuries are the number one complaint of military personnel). The task force is currently working to increase clinical awareness through the development of a resource guide for clinicians and an educational program.
“It will take time, but with the fantastic assistance we have received from our medical community, we’ll get there,” said Major General Jerry Still, USAF-Retired, and the President of LVMAC. “We’re hoping the federal government will come to appreciate such a regional effort and work with us more and more.”
If you would like more information, please contact Alexander Alex at 610-986-4304, one of the Co-Chairmen of the Healthcare in Our Community Project.