Volumne 12, Issue No. 1
February 4, 2014

ANAI Fellow Representing NOVA at Joining Forces Anniversary Event at the University of Pennsylvania

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden marked the first anniversary of the Joining Forces campaign with several events during April 11 and 12 at the White House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Shreveport, Louisiana, and Jacksonville, Florida.  After a kick-off at the White House on April 11th, the first and second ladies travelled to Philadelphia to the University of Pennsylvania – Irvine Auditorium, where a group of nurse leaders, nursing students, military service members and others waited patiently.  I was tremendously honored to be amongst those waiting.  My presence there was as one of four national board members of the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs which is a voice for registered nurses in the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).  I was also proud to be among so many nurse leaders who have I come to know through the years as a member of ANA and other affiliate organizations; as a current ANAI 2011-12 Fellow.

Since the launch of the Joining Forces initiative on April 12, 2011, progress has been made to gain the nation’s full support to recognize, honor and take action to serve veterans and military families. The initiative focuses on key priority areas – employment, education, and wellness — while raising awareness about the service, sacrifice, and needs of America’s veterans and military families.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing is a nationally recognized leader in nursing education and was the perfect host site for Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden to announce a major initiative involving more than 150 of America’s leading nursing organizations and more than 450 nursing schools in 50 states and territories to ensure our nation’s nurses are prepared to meet the unique health needs of service members, veterans, and their families. They thanked the organizations and nursing schools accepting the pledge to support those who have served and protected our freedoms by providing the best care possible.  Among those organizations accepting the pledge were the American Nurses Association, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Nursing Service, and the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs. Over three million nurses in every health care setting across America and its territories will be affected by this initiative. Nursing leaders have committed to train practicing and future nurses on how to recognize and care for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, post deployment depression and other combat-related issues including wounds of war that are not physical.

Dr. Afaf Meleis, Dean, University of Pennsylvania Nursing School stated that “nurses are in a good position to help veterans at every level of the health-care system” and told Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden, “You have come to the right partners…Nurses tend to attend to the whole person, mentally, emotionally, and physically.”

Dr. Biden who is the mother of a military service member declared that “military families deserve the best that we have to offer”.  Mrs. Obama charged everyone present to realize that since 2000; more than 44,000 troops have suffered at minimum moderate brain injuries. She also reported that one in six soldiers has had PTSD and similar numbers of soldiers report depression after returning home. She said, “These emotional problems are natural, normal human responses to the violence of war”.  She assured those soldiers present, “No matter what you’re going through, America will be there for you and your families. That’s what this is about.”

Following the 45 minute program to announce the Joining Forces initiative for nursing, the “2012 Leadership Summit – Joining Forces, Nurses Uniting & Joining Forces to support our military service members, veterans, and their families” commenced. After a brisk walk across the historic University of Pennsylvania campus to the School of Nursing – Claire M. Fagin Hall, nurse leaders were directed to assigned tables to participate in Table Top Discussions surrounding the areas. Each table had a nursing doctoral student who facilitated the discussions focusing on the following: past and present initiatives represented organizations has implemented to prepare nurses to care for veterans with invisible wounds (PTSD, TBI, Depression), initiatives in the planning stages at each organization, new initiatives organizations may take to promote the Joining Forces agenda, and identify assistance or resources which may be required from national nursing groups or other agencies to implement the ideas generated.  The summit concluded with a representative from each table reporting out on ideas and new collaborations from each table top discussion.

Being a DVA nurse who has worked with veterans and service members for most of my nursing career, I felt I had a lot to contribute to the discussion. It was an awesome opportunity to hear how other nurses are ready for the challenge and look to the DVA. As a nurse and the mother of a son in the US Army, I look forward to the opportunity to share more of my experience and knowledge as a contribution to the Joining Forces initiative. I was also proud to be among so many nurse leaders who I have come to know through the years as a member of ANA and other affiliate organizations.

Thelma Roach-Serry, RN, BSN, NE-BC, VNA Vice-President, American Nurses Advocacy Institute (ANAI) Fellow

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