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Chronic Health Conditions for Veterans

The Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) has begun to focus on preventative services and healthy lifestyle interventions for the veteran population of the United States. Healthcare providers, from nurses and physicians to physical and occupational therapists, should be aware of and know how to address the following issues for U.S. veterans.

Among veterans, the rates of non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs) – such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, and diabetes – are as high as, if not higher than, those in the general population. In 1992, federal legislation created the VHA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (NCP) to focus on recommendations about clinical preventative services and healthy living interventions for veterans.

The risk factors that the health interventions target are physical inactivity, obese and overweight, smoking, and diet.

Nine Healthy Living Messages

These messages were created with veterans in mind, but they can apply to all patients who want to be active and involved healthcare decision-making.

  1. Be involved in your health care.
  2. Be tobacco free.
  3. Eat wisely.
  4. Be physically active.
  5. Strive for a healthy weight.
  6. Limit alcohol.
  7. Get recommended screening tests and immunizations.
  8. Manage stress.
  9. Be safe, which encompasses a lot:
    • Prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
    • Prevent falls.
    • Prevent motor vehicle crashes and injuries.
    • Prevent intimate partner violence.
    • Prevent self-harm.

While most of these points may seem like common sense, combining all nine practices into a lifestyle of health-conscious habits can be difficult. The veteran population is largely male (94 percent) and older (with a mean age of 64); among the 6 million veterans in VHA primary care, 19.7 percent were smokers, and 36.7 percent were obese. The rates of the following conditions in veterans are higher than the national average for U.S. patients, as illustrated in the chart below (Source: CDC Data Sheets and NC Medical Journal).

BL - Chronic Disease Vets vs. US Pop - 11_18

Other Resources for Veteran Patients

Clinical Preventative Services: To improve the delivery of preventative services, the NCP provides staff and patient education services. NCP also sponsors the “development of clinical decision support tools that prompt VA clinicians to offer recommended preventative services.”

MOVE! Weight Management Program: This program provides supported self-management in nutrition, exercise, and behavioral changes so that participating veterans can stop gaining weight, and even lose weight and maintain a healthier weight.

Patient Health Education: Health educators ensure that veterans have access to and understanding of evidence-based health education and informational programs. Each VHA medical facility has a specially trained veterans’ health coordinator to assist with patient education programs.

Tobacco Use and Lung Cancer: About three in 10 veterans use tobacco products, so a focus on smoking cessation efforts is especially important.

Office of Academic Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) in order to conduct education and training programs for healthcare professional students and trainees. Among many opportunities, the VA seeks partnerships with competitively selected nursing programs throughout the country. One of the goal of the Enhancing Academic Partnerships Programs is to increase recruitment and retention of VA nurses as a result of enhanced roles in nursing education. More information is available here.


Disease Prevention in the Veterans Health Administration

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