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Study: NY health care providers not equipped to handle veterans

RAND Corp. study found ‘significant gaps’ in readiness of community-based health care providers to address veterans’ health needs.

Dr. Jason Kornrich a psychotherapist outside his office

Dr. Jason Kornrich a psychotherapist outside his office at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks Saturday March 10, 2018 Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Few of New York State’s health care providers — less than 3 percent — are fully equipped to address the unique needs of veterans, with many falling short because of unfamiliarity with military culture, failure to screen for health problems common to veterans, or other deficiencies, according to a new study.

The RAND Corp. study’s authors say the shortcoming is particularly relevant now because federal officials are considering whether to encourage more veterans to use private health facilities rather than medical services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“These findings reveal significant gaps and variations in the readiness of community-based health care providers to provide high-quality care to veterans,” said Terri Tanielian, the study’s lead author and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

“It appears that more work needs to be done to prepare the civilian health care workforce to care for the unique needs of veterans,” Tanielian said.

Long Island has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of former military personnel, with an estimated 122,000 veterans living in Nassau and Suffolk, according to census data. About one in four Long Island veterans were treated through the region’s VA medical facilities in 2017.

Military service exposes individuals to an alarming array of hazards, including the toxin Agent Orange, concussive artillery blasts or PTSD-related sleep troubles.

Richard Gales, a veterans counselor for the Town of Hempstead, said the failure to screen for veteran-specific health factors may be due to a time crunch many health workers face.

“I’m always telling guys who come see me after going to the doctor, ‘Did you tell them this, did you tell them that,’ ” Gales said.

A spokesman at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Northport said his agency is helping area clinicians properly assess patients who are veterans.

The Northport center trains medical, nursing and physician assistant students, and medical residents through an affiliation with Stony Brook University’s medical school, Center spokesman Todd Goodman said. Goodman said that instruction includes training in how to obtain a military history and how to spot mental health issues often linked to military service.

Goodman said Northport clinicians also participate with the Veterans’ Health Alliance of Long Island, a consortium of health providers, helping to raise awareness among area practitioners regarding opioid abuse, suicide awareness, family issues and other challenges that can confront veterans.

Northwell Health, Long Island’s largest hospital network, has a heightened awareness regarding the health of all veterans, said Dr. David Battinelli, Northwell’s chief medical officer. “We advocate for our clinical providers, from nurses to physicians, to ask about prior military service as part of the patient’s social history rather than waiting for an open-ended conversation.”

Northwell psychologist Jason Kornrich said veterans tend to be reluctant to disclose their military experiences, making it even more likely that service-related medical conditions would go undisclosed during doctor visits.

He said Northwell has begun to include questions relating to veterans status on its electronic intake forms.

“Veterans have exposures to toxic environments, or very traumatic situations such as combat and disaster relief situations, which can take a great toll, medically as well as psychologically,” Kornrich said.

John Javis, a former chairman of the Veterans Health Alliance of Long Island, hailed the report — titled “Ready or Not? Assessing the Capacity of New York State Health Care Providers to Meet the Needs of Veterans” — as a challenge to the region’s health practitioners to do a better job of targeting veterans.

“It will be a heavy sell to pull doctors out of busy practices to do more training, because the patient loads are so enormous,” Javis said. “But I think the study rings true, and will challenge people to do something.”

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