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Tools and Tips to Treat Military Patients

A medical provider provides care to a soldier

Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Bradley Taylor

Military life can be stressful. As a health care professional treating service members, veterans and their families, you need more than just the latest information and resources on psychological health. You also need to understand the unique challenges facing your patients in the military community.

The Real Warriors Campaign offers tools, tips and resources for health care providers who support warriors and families coping with invisible wounds. This article is a good first step to help you better understand and treat your military patients. It will touch on the stresses of military life and provide clinical practice guidelines, resources and learning opportunities to inform your practice.

Understanding Stress in the Military

Stress is an unavoidable part of military life. Service members often experience both deployment and non-deployment stress. Rigorous training, long periods away from family, frequent moves, combat and reintegration can all cause stress reactions in service members and take an emotional toll on their families.

It is common for service members to report concerns like sleep disturbance, irritability and difficulty concentrating when experiencing stress. However, in some cases these symptoms can indicate more serious conditions, like severe depression or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Deepening your knowledge of the common stresses associated with uniformed service can help you recognize symptoms—especially serious ones—and better treat military patients and their families.

Culture Courses and Resources

Providing better treatment to the military community starts with understanding the unique aspects of military culture. It will help you build trust with patients and develop more effective treatment plans that account for the circumstances faced by service members, veterans and their families. The Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) offers resources and training on military culture and its influence on health-related behaviors. Additional online CDP courses are summarized in the Real Warriors Campaign article “Continued Education for Health Professionals.”

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) and its various component centers, including the Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC) and the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) also offer helpful resources for learning about basics like military ranks and jobs and for exploring nuanced topics like how to support women in the military. Resources include:

You can find additional resources on DHCC’s “Training for Community Providers” webpage.

Tips and Tools

The Real Warriors Campaign encourages service members to seek help for psychological health concerns by combating the perception that doing so is a sign of weakness. As a provider, you can also encourage help-seeking behaviors by using campaign resources focused on the needs and concerns of military patients. Featured online tools and resources for both you and your patients include:

You can also view online video profiles of Real Warriors who have sought care and continue to maintain successful military or civilian careers. The profiles help you learn about service members, and also show patients and their families that reaching out for help is a sign of strength that results in positive outcomes.

Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines

Medical and scientific research on how to prevent, screen and care for service-related psychological health conditions, like PTSD, is constantly changing. The Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs offer guidelines for effective therapies, counseling and medications, including:

Guidelines from the Department of Health include those for:

If someone you are treating is experiencing distress as the result of military service or other life stress, remind them that reaching out is a sign of strength. If your military patient or their family needs additional support between health care appointments, the Psychological Health Resource Center provides confidential 24/7 access to trained health resource consultants at 866-966-1020 or online with Real Warriors Live Chat. The Real Warriors Campaign “Seek Help, Find Care” page also lists key psychological health resources.

Additional Resources

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