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Study: Healthcare providers in New York could do more for veteran patients

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

A new study suggests that there may some challenges to moving more veteran health care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to private providers in New York state.

Though Rand Corp. researchers concluded most providers in the state are able to provide timely care and follow clinical practice guidelines, “most also know little about the military or veterans, are not routinely screening for conditions common among veterans, and are unfamiliar with VA.”

New York was noted for having the nation’s fifth-largest veteran population, and the fourth-highest level of state spending on veteran medical services. Of the 800,000 veterans in New York, about half were enrolled in the VA health care system, and about three-fifths of enrollees visited a VA facility in 2015. A Fort Drum economic impact statement released this week said there were 3,092 retirees from all branches of the military living in the vicinity of Fort Drum.

Among the challenges noted by the researchers was that fewer than half of providers performed regular screenings for conditions commonly found in the veteran community such as suicide risk and sleep-related problems. They also noted only one in three providers “met a minimum threshold for familiarity with military culture,” and only one in five health care professionals ask their patients about a military or veteran affiliation.

“As a result, many providers are missing an opportunity to begin a conversation about how having a military history and background might have contributed to their veteran patients’ current medical condition,” the report said. “Providers are also missing an opportunity to understand how military culture could shape veterans’ preferences and attitudes about treatment.”

The study suggested that training programs to increase military cultural knowledge and incentives to screen for service-connected conditions could improve the readiness of non-VA providers.

The study did not specifically mention north country health care providers, many of whom regularly interact with Fort Drum soldiers who receive care in the community. During a health care roundtable last May, post commander Maj. Gen. Walter E. Piatt said such a setup is beneficial to the post and the region.

“People always say ‘You don’t have a military hospital at Fort Drum,’ and I say ‘Yes, we do, we have five, they just happen to be out in the community.’ We’re integrated,” he said.

Researchers divided the state into Metropolitan, Capital/Central and Western regions for research purposes, and received feedback from just under 800 providers.

On Monday, White House officials met with multiple veterans groups as some conservatives pushed to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin with a new secretary who would support their plan to expand health care options beyond the VA system — a controversial program known as Choice. Leading advocacy groups, including the American Legion, the VFW and the Disabled Veterans of America, fear the goal is to dismantle the VA, and they view Shulkin as an ally in that standoff.

Different bills to expand the Choice program have been presented in the Senate but have stalled amid political fights.

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© 2018 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.