PARK RIDGE, Ill.— Have you ever served in the military?

It is a simple but very important question that Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), nurses and other healthcare providers now will be asking their patients.

Military service members may have been exposed to environments that could lead to adverse health risks — risks that healthcare providers need to know to serve veterans better.

On Labor Day, Cheryl Sullivan, CEO of the American Academy of Nursing, announced at the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA) conference a new awareness campaign to improve the health of veterans. The campaign — “Have you ever served in the military?” — encourages healthcare providers to ask about their patients’ military background.

“This single question — ‘Have you every served in the military?’ — can be the key to timely and adequate assessments, diagnosis and should be considered prior to undergoing anesthesia,” asserts Dennis Bless, CRNA, MS, president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).

Less than 30 percent of all veterans receive care within the VA healthcare system.

Dr. Harold Kudler, associate director of VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, noted that, “56 percent of community providers don’t routinely ask their patients about being a current or former member of the armed forces or a family member.”

While VA healthcare providers may be familiar with military-related occupational and environmental hazards, many civilian healthcare providers may not be fully aware. Through the “Have you ever served in the military campaign?”, the American Academy of Nursing seeks to address these major gaps in veterans’ healthcare.

“Have you ever served in the military?” represents the academy’s commitment to first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s “Joining Forces” campaign, which the AANA supported during its launch, to mobilize all sectors of the community to support veterans and their families. Nurses, healthcare’s equivalent of “boots on the ground,” are uniquely positioned to facilitate the fundamental change in ensuring that vital information is obtained and recorded in order to improve the quality of healthcare provided to veterans and their families.

One example of a veteran health risk not common to civilians is military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, who worked or slept near open-air burn pits, possibly being exposed to multiple toxins. These toxins can lead to an increased risk for respiratory illnesses and a variety of cancers, including leukemia.

Nurses and other healthcare providers can obtain a pocket card by visiting

The pocket card lists the most common health concerns linked to military service, as well as questions the provider should ask veterans.

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