The health and care of the nation's 2 million veterans is the focus of a new four-volume resource edited by and featuring experts with ties to the University of Kentucky.
With contributions from 65 experts around the globe, including seven allied with the UK, the handbook aims to explain the history of veterans' health care, examine the challenges of the most recent vets of Iraq and Afghanistan, and explore how the country can best treat military men and women in the future.
The scope of the official title — The Praeger Handbook of Veterans' Health: History, Challenges, Issues, and Developments — reflects the depth of the research.
The editor, Dr. Thomas Miller, professor emeritus and senior research scientist in psychiatry at UK, began working on the handbook in 2006. Miller, who has spent decades dealing with veterans' health problems, said he culled his authors from a wide network that included experts from Australia, Russia and China who explain how veteran care works in those countries.
The volumes are intended to be a comprehensive resource for veterans and their families and the medical professionals who care for them written in a way the layperson could understand, Miller said.
(It is designed as a resource for libraries, health care offices and universities, but it is available at online bookstores for $257.)
Topics range from the back office to the bedside as experts weigh in on topics as varied as how to best get electronic medical records to transfer from the military to the VA system and the unique challenges in caring for the current wave of severely injured patients who simply wouldn't have survived in previous wars. Advances in medical care and equipment has made once-fatal injuries survivable, said Dr. James Holsinger, chair of the Department of Health Services Management.
The dependence of current efforts on citizen soldiers from the Reserves has created new challenges for health care providers, said Holsinger, who contributed to the handbook and is a former major general in the U.S. Army Reserve. Reservists are serving multiple tours and, in Kentucky, often returning home to small towns where there is no one who has shared their war experience, he said.
"This is no different than any other war we have fought before," he said.
The intensity of the fighting and the repeated transitions between military and civilian life can complicate the feelings of isolation that compound symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Plus, he said, many of today's returning soldiers have the complication of traumatic brain injuries in addition to PTSD or even the third challenge of having lost a limb.
The handbook reiterates the importance of a comprehensive approach in treating veterans, he said.
"You can't just treat them in an individual slice," he said.
Miller said he hopes the book will not only show people the scope of services available and how to get the help they need, but help shape the future of veteran care and by extension health care in the United States, he said.
There is a lot to be learned — good and bad — from the collective experience of professionals at more than 100 VA hospitals, he said.
"It is currently our only national health system," he said.