Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH

Launching a New Initiative Aimed at Serving Those Who Serve

Readers probably have heard of the White House Joining Forces Initiative, which works to mobilize all sectors of society to provide critically needed opportunities and support to U.S. service members and veterans and their families.  A central component of the initiative is wellness, and I am pleased to announce AACOM’s participation in a new Joining Forces effort that could have a significant impact on the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.

Historically, osteopathic physicians have had a particularly strong presence in the U.S. armed forces. While some branches of the military do not break out military physicians by training (DO or MD), it is estimated that some 20 percent of all military physicians are osteopathic physicians. So, I was both gratified and enthusiastic when AACOM recently was invited by the Joining Forces leadership to join a group of health care and health professions education organizations that will work to address veteran’s health care needs. 

On January 11, First Lady Michelle Obama announced this new effort on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), with a White House press advisory calling the initiative "a major commitment by the country’s top medical colleges and universities to creating a new generation of doctors, medical schools, and research facilities to ensure that veterans, service men and women receive the medical care that they deserve." I was honored to attend the event along with seven osteopathic medical school deans, AAMC leadership and a number of MD college deans. Two hundred troops from nearby Fort Lee and dozens of VCU faculty and students were also in attendance. See AACOM's press release on our participation.

One interesting thing I have learned is that some 70 percent of veterans receive their health care outside of the Veterans Administration. Thus, it is up to the nation’s medical colleges to ensure that our graduating physicians have the medical and cultural competencies they need to effectively deliver health care to our nation’s large number of veterans. More than 1.5 million troops served in Iraq alone, for example, and according to Captain Brad Cooper, U.S. Navy, Executive Director of the White House Joining Forces initiative, hundreds of thousands are likely to be impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or depression as they return home.

AACOM’s Joining Forces efforts will focus on the following goals:

  • Aspire to educate every future physician on how to recognize and treat PTSD, TBI and post-combat depression.
  • Partner with other public and private organizations to share educational and training resources.
  • Make veteran care a core issue at the 2013 Annual Meeting.
  • Develop or highlight existing educational and referral resources in a prominent manner on the association’s website.
  • Use technology to connect experienced professionals in osteopathic medical education with those who have not been trained or educated on PTSD/TBI or post-combat depression recognition/treatment regimens.

To date, AACOM has made considerable progress in assessing the military medicine expertise and resources that currently exist on its members’ campuses; at garnering member support for the initiative; and at planning specific coordinating, curricular, collaborative and promotional activities aimed at ensuring that health professions education programs have the tools they need to prepare students, faculty and clinical providers to ensure adequate and appropriate care for military service members and veterans and their families. 

To date, all of the nation’s 26 colleges of osteopathic medicine have signed on to a pledge in support of this goal. I invite you to view AACOM’s Joining Forces web page to learn more about our progress and plans, and I hope you will lend your support, suggestions and work to this critical initiative. Please feel free to contact me; only through a concerted, coordinated effort will we be able to effectively serve those who have given so much to this nation.

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