Marian nursing students train for veteran care

June 12, 2013

When Marian University student nurse Andrew Surita received his official nurse’s pin at the school’s Pinning Ceremony in May, he received an enormous surprise. The school, that has made dedicated efforts in its nursing curriculum to Joining Forces, a national initiative totrain the nation’s three million nurses to recognize and care for veterans impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other issues, worked with Andrew’s fiancé, Hillary Arnoldussen, to reunite him that day with his father, Captain Roy Surita of the United States Army, who was able to obtained a furlough from his fourth U.S. Army deployment in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Captain Surita, as shown in the photo at the right, a soon-to-be recipient of his third Bronze Star for exemplary actions supporting the global war on terrorism during combat operations, was on hand to watch his son graduate with the rest of Andrew’s family who shared in the surprise.  ForAndrew, it was a fitting end to his formal studies at Marian where he was one of many students who took part in Joining Forces, launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden just more than a year ago.   One hundred fifty state and national nursing organizations and more than 500 nursing schools are part of this coordinated effort to better serve veterans and military families by learning more about PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression and other combat-relatedconditions.

Specific to Marian have been: 1) participation in the first Fond du Lac County Veterans Benefit Fair (where students both volunteered and conducted a survey to analyze data for the county’s Veterans Service Office), 2) operation of a clothing drive to help homeless female veterans (which reaped enough wares to fill two, 15-passenger vans) and 3) the institution of a service learning initiative at Marian that focuses on the broad needs of veterans and current members of the military and their families.

In addition, of the many veteran service learning projects initiated by students, one student, Sara Rawlsky, created a video presentation featuring the stories of 25vets, including their personal histories, their service and what they took away from the military experience.

“Nurses are often the first people patients see when they enter a medical facility,” said Marian Dean of Nursing Julie A. Luetschwager, Ph.D., RN. “It has beendetermined that they need to be educated about the very specific needs of veterans and their families, particularly those returning from active combat.  Learning about the physical and psychosocial needs of individuals has always been part of our nursing curriculum, but the Joining Forces program seeks to expand the body of clinical knowledge in this arena.”

A recent influx in the return of US soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan is of course a significant factor as is the great number of those afflicted with combat-related issues.

PTSD and TBI have impacted approximately one in six of the troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, totaling more than 300,000 veterans. Since 2000, morethan 44,000 of those troops have suffered at least a moderate-grade traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Luetschwager said nurses are available at every level of the health-care system to help the majority of veterans who seek care outside of the Veterans Affairs(VA) health system at their local hospitals staffed by nurses and doctors in their communities.

“Joining Forces is an important endeavor to ensure a well-educated nursing workforce who can address the invisible wounds of war that our veterans suffer fromand their families cope with,” she said.

According to Dr. Luetschwager, they will be initiating a new curriculum beginning fall 2013 that will expand the integration of education on the needs of veterans across the entire program. 

“Students education will begin on the concepts of health promotion, wellness, and safety across the lifespan.  Students will broaden their understanding onpsychosocial needs of clients and then move into the more serious psychosocial and physical effects as a result of traumatic experiences suffered by military men and women as they serve our country.  This is where care related to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as a result of traumatic events is addressed,” she said. “The change will be in more specifically addressing the broader needs specific to veterans and their families.”