Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham have developed one of the first palliative care education programs tailored to vets’ special needs.
The program will be introduced in 170 Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Centers around the country during the next 12 months.
“Many veterans, at the end of their lives, struggle with issues related to a traumatic event they had during their time in service,” said project co-chair Amos Bailey, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and director of the safe harbor palliative care program at the Birmingham VA Medical Center. “They may have had a physical or emotional disability related to their time in service.” He noted the age at which a person enters the military – usually 18 or 19 – is a formative time, so experiences can have a particularly powerful impact.
The new program, called Education on Palliative and End-of-Life Care for Veterans Project, deals with pain treatment, patient-doctor communication and decision making about end-of-life treatment. It also addresses four psychosocial issues that have a higher prevalence among vets than in the general population. They include post-traumatic stress syndrome, homelessness, substance abuse disorder and military sexual trauma.
“We need to be aware of and sensitive to all veterans’ needs,” Bailey said. The VA has made strides in palliative care, he said, noting plans to open 50 new patient palliative care and hospice units in VA facilities over the next five years. “Then every VA in the country will have designated hospice and palliative care beds,” Bailey said. “We want our VAs to provide excellent end-of-life care.”
The UAB program details are available here.