Reflecting on a history of supporting Veterans, by Dr. Randy Moore

Randy Moore DNP, RN
Randy Moore DNP, RN

Randy Moore DNP, RN, is a former Navy nurse and director of the VA Nursing Academic Partnership (VANAP) undergraduate residency program at the Birmingham VA and UAB School of Nursing and a three-time graduate of UAB School of Nursing. In observance of Veteran’s Day on November 11, Moore has shared the historical and present connections between the city of Birmingham, UAB School of Nursing and Veterans.

The UAB School of Nursing has a long and storied tradition of supporting Veterans and their families, and this November we pause to honor our nation’s Veterans, to say “thank you,” and to reflect on the efforts of the men and women who have faithfully served our nation.

This year marks a century since the end of major World War I hostilities, November 11, 1918, and therefore 100 years since the first celebration of Armistice Day — what is now known as Veterans Day. While Armistice Day marked the anniversary of the end of World War I hostilities, in 1945, Birmingham native Raymond Weeks had the original idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all Veterans.

Weeks petitioned, lobbied and generally harangued everyone who would listen, and in 1954 President Eisenhower signed the bill declaring that Armistice Day would become Veterans Day, a time to celebrate all of those who have served. The first Veterans Day was celebrated in Birmingham on November 11, 1947.

There has been a formal academic partnership between UAB School of Nursing and the Birmingham VA Medical Center since 2009, as well as a much longer informal relationship. In 2009, UAB School of Nursing became one of 15 VA Nursing Academic Partnership (VANAP) sites in the United States. The partnership includes an undergraduate program that trains compassionate, highly educated nurses by providing undergraduate nursing students with the tools necessary to meet veterans’ health care needs. Students learn about the eras of war and unique challenges and health risks faced by veterans of that era and receive opportunities to apply evidence-based care.

VA Nursing Academic Partnerships also include VANAP-GE, an expansion into graduate education with the goal of placing 48 new psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners into the workforce over a five-year grant period, and a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Residency for recent graduates. Additionally, the UAB SON is one of only eight sites nationwide to host a VA Quality Scholars (VAQS) fellowship, which promotes leadership in quality improvement research and emphasizes interprofessional learning. However, preparing nurses and nurse leaders to enter the VA pipeline to address mental health and other health needs of a growing Veteran population is just the first step.

UAB SON was awarded a Veterans-to-BSN Health Resources and Service (HRSA) grant in 2013, which allowed the School to offer a special program, Veterans Career Advancement in Nursing (VCAN!). VCAN! addresses United States Executive Branch efforts to ensure that all Veterans have an opportunity to obtain civilian employment through an innovative program for Veterans desiring a professional nursing career. Since the VCAN! was implemented, 32 student Veterans have validated 115 credit hours saving them tuition, reducing stress and legitimizing their previous military health care education.

American Flag and VA logoEdited_1 (1)The scars of war, both seen and unseen may linger forever and can manifest themselves at very inopportune times. Veterans serve in peace time and in war, they serve in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, the jungles of Vietnam and across Europe and the Pacific Ocean, along with many unnamed patches of earth that we will never know by name. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are real problems for our newest Veterans, and while there are around 22 million Veterans in our nation, only around 8 million receive any portion of their health care inside a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical facility. It is incumbent on all of us to ask our patients, “Have you ever served in the military?” upon evaluating new patients. Asking this question may open the door to what is actually going on with our patient, and enable us to provide needed care.

This Veterans Day, and every day, if you see a Veteran with more salt than pepper in their hair, possibly wearing a military ball cap with his or her military campaign emblazoned across the front — please thank them for their service. Veterans display honor, courage and patriotism. They have sacrificed self for the betterment of our country and to protect the liberties so sacred to all Americans. Our Korean War and World War II Veterans are in their eighth and ninth decades of life right now. When you encounter one consider hugging their neck and letting them know how much you truly appreciate them and their service.

And if this quick blog posting hasn’t yet impressed upon you the need to pause for a few moments to honor our Veterans, I can only leave you with this: Consider taking a drive down to the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo one cool fall afternoon. Envision the leaves falling and a gentle breeze that causes you to nestle a little deeper in your jacket. Watch from a distance as the next Veteran is lowered into their final resting place. Flags are billowing in the distance. Family members are dabbing moist eyes. Taps is playing somberly behind the family as honors are rendered. Old Glory is presented to the spouse or children. Another Veteran is laid to rest as they faithfully carry out their final set of orders.

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