“It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure.” Coming out of college, this Navy slogan spoke to me, and 20 years of service lived up to that promise. I traveled the world, worked with dedicated professionals and served our country’s top leaders in the White House medical unit.
Serving in the U.S. military can be an incredible experience, but it can also be difficult, demanding and even dangerous — in times of both war and peace. During my career as a Navy nurse, I saw the devastation caused by even routine military training accidents and also witnessed the destruction on 9/11 while assigned to the Pentagon. The stress and physical demands can sometimes have a negative impact on health; on the other hand, the culture of preparedness can instill good health habits.
Recognizing the unique factors affecting the health of this population, the United Health Foundation is committed to supporting the health of all current and former members of the U.S. military and since 2016 has produced the Health of Those Who Have Served Report to examine and raise awareness of key trends, successes and challenges.
This year’s report shows concerning trends in mental health, with suicidal thoughts and depression among those who have served rising at twice the rate of those without military service over the last decade. What’s more, those with military service are nearly four times more likely to have hearing impairment than civilians. However, it is encouraging that, despite these and other challenges, those who have served continue to report high health status at a greater rate than the civilian population.
As we seek to address the challenges highlighted in this report, we know there is a gap in care. One study we sponsored found that just 13% of mental health providers surveyed were delivering evidence-based, culturally competent care that meets veterans’ unique needs. We have worked to address this gap through our partnership with Florida State University, creating a graduate-level program for health care professionals on military health. We invite policymakers and providers to build on and expand this work.
The exciting opportunities of military service come with a range of health impacts and needs, as this report underscores. I call on the health care community to use these findings to better understand this population and commit to providing the best care possible for those who have given their best to their country.