It’s a simple question that state military leaders would like more healthcare providers to ask patients: Have you or a family member served in the military? They say the answer can inform treatment and the question can make a patient feel seen and understood – both essential to successful treatment.
Aimed at increasing awareness of military culture and its impact on service members, veterans and their families, the state Department of Military Affairs and Veterans Affairs plans to invest up to $250,000 in a program statewide training. Topics will range from core military values, terminology and branches of the service to the impact of deployment and the challenges of returning home.
“There is absolutely a need,” said Tracie Parker, a long-serving member of the military and social worker at Greater Manchester Mental Health Centre. It offers a small group of 90 minutes coaching on military cultural competence through its organization.
“There’s a tremendous amount of stigma that comes with seeking mental health treatment,” Parker said. “It’s hard enough for our community to ask for help. And asking for help from people who don’t understand what we’ve been through is really difficult.
For example, don’t call members of the Air Force “zoomies” (they’re airmen) or Marines (soldiers serve in the Army and National Guard). And don’t equate the trauma of combat duty with the trauma of a car accident.
“If they verbalize this to someone in the military, it almost diminishes their experience,” Parker said. “I get it. The brain processes trauma the same way. But those traumas are really different experiences.
There are nearly 100,000 veterans and 4,000 active military personnel in New Hampshire. The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs already offers free online cultural awareness and suicide prevention training for healthcare providers and anyone working with military and veterans through its website, dmavs.nh.gov.
And for several years, the department has been promoting its “Ask the question” campaign, urging health care providers to ask patients about their military experience because so many members and veterans were being misdiagnosed.
Those efforts inspired the new formation, said Warren Perry, the department’s deputy adjutant general.
“What do you do if someone says yes?” That’s why we’re doing this,” he said. “Suppliers need to have this understanding. This helps them provide better care and understand the causes so they can treat the patient.
The training will be free and in person. Online was not an option, Perry said, because he wants vendors to sit in a room together, share experiences and talk face-to-face.
In the departement proposal seeking organizations interested in providing the training, he pointed to a 2014 study by the RAND Corporation to raise awareness of military culture among health care providers. Only 8 percent of those working outside of military settings or the military health benefits network had a high level of awareness.
Tye Thompson, a recreation therapist at Northeast Passage in Durham, works with veterans and said raising awareness of military culture is no less important than raising awareness of race, ethnicity, gender identity or orientation sexual.
“I think cultural competency is an ethical requirement for all healthcare professionals,” Thompson said. “Understanding the customers you serve creates a safe and welcoming place and helps customers get what they need.”
Thompson said the training will be a good opportunity to encourage providers to reflect and rethink their understanding and provide better care.
Perry said he hopes to begin training later this year after the department reviews proposals and chooses an organization. In the meantime, Parker suggests starting with curiosity.
“It’s important not to feel as a civilian that you know what they’ve been through,” she said. “It’s important to be humble. You don’t know their experience. And they won’t be offended if you ask questions.