One of the goals I have for my career is to do occupational therapy with returning veterans and wounded warriors. I hope to work in a Warrior Transition Unit where I can utilize my occupational therapy training and incorporate my interests in career planning, physical medicine and psychology to help American soldiers who are returning home maintain their mental and physical health and adjust successfully to civilian life.
So I was especially intrigued when I came across a great article on the AOTA blog written by Elizabeth Hart, an occupational therapy student at UNC Chapel Hill. She was able to attend a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing titled “Service should not lead to suicide: Access to VA’s Mental Health Care.” At this committee meeting, parents of veterans who committed suicide after returning from deployment and a retired veteran who works with the Wounded Warrior Project testified about the difficulty veterans have accessing mental health care and other vital services through the VA healthcare system. Their goal was to inform our political leaders and policymakers about the systemic and policy changes that need to be made in order to prevent similar incidents and provide better primary mental and physical health care to veterans.
In her article, Hart not only outlined the multiple issues the panelists discussed at the hearing, but she also described why occupational therapists are so well-suited to help meet many veterans’ unfulfilled healthcare needs. She does a fantastic job of explaining how occupational therapists are often-neglected but important providers of physical and psychological treatments for veterans, including:
- Supporting soldiers’ successful transition from active duty to civilian life by helping them “gain the skills and tools they need to participate in their day-to-day routines” and “reestablish their own roles within their communities”
- Utilizing their holistic training and background to “address both physical and psychological injuries” as integral members of interdisciplinary healthcare teams
- Acting as mental and behavioral health professionals to help increase veterans’ access to often inaccessible mental health services
- Providing “non-pharmacological treatment options” for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially through the use of occupations like “gardening, motorcycle riding and playing guitar”
Ultimately, Hart’s article provided a great overview of the issues that exist for veterans in the current healthcare system and the opportunities OT’s have to help resolve them, and I highly recommend that you read it in its entirety here. This is an issue I care passionately about, and I hope that students, practitioners and AOTA continue to advocate for the role of occupational therapy in increasingly diverse settings.