Let’s Not Forget the Nurses Who Serve in Combat Areas. They Are Veterans, Too!

Let's Not Forget the Nurses Who Serve in Combat Areas. They Are Veterans, Too!

Too often, when we think of veterans who have fought and sacrificed for this country, we forget about the nurses who have served right along with them throughout our history and, in many cases, made the difference between life and death.

The role that nurses play has often been overlooked, but they are usually the ones responsible for the wounded after the doctor or surgeon has finished his work. It's a role that has not been properly acknowledged except for a few exceptional women, most notably Florence Nightingale, who volunteered as a nurse in the Crimean War, which began in 1853. Then nurses were instructed to only clean the hospital, where the conditions were often dirty and disease-ridden. Under her leadership, those problems were corrected and nurses were able to perform appropriate tasks.

I don't know what it was like when those nurses came home, but a study in 2013 of reintegration and homecoming experiences of US Army nurses after deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan found the following to be generally true of five themes:

  • Aspects of command support — "No one cares."
  • Fulfilling requirements for attendance at pre/post-deployment briefings were described as "check the blocks."
  • Readjustments from focusing strictly on duty requirements versus multitasking, such as family responsibilities and  daily living, led to the "stress of being home."
  • Nurses stated "They don't understand" when referring to anyone without deployment experience (including family, friends and other soldiers).
  • When referencing deployment experiences, nurses emphasized that "It just changes you."

Nurses in the study felt that (1) the current reintegration process was not meeting their needs for a smoother homecoming; (2) new or improved interventions would be beneficial to assist these nurses with the transition to a noncombat environment, and (3) educational programs are needed to help nursing supervisors provide optimal leadership through all phases of deployment.

We can and should do better.

Beau Weisman, Editor