When Canadian Veterans leave the military, they are leaving a health care system designed for them and their unique health needs. As they enter the civilian community, they enter the public health care system where they face long wait times and health care providers who often have little understanding of how military service can affect health and well-being.
Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy, Linna Tam-Seto is working to better understand what public health care providers need to know and do to provide culturally competent care to Canadian Veterans.She recently presented at the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research forum, which brought together more than 800 researchers, policymakers, veterans and active serving members from around the world.
Her research has found that increased awareness of military culture among health care providers has a positive impact on the quality of health care Canadian Veterans receive.
Tam-Seto notes that many people, including health care providers with limited experience working with veterans, have an antiquated image of what a veteran looks like and what their needs may be. “A small-town physician is not going to know about Veterans Affairs. They’re not going to know about service acquired injuries. They’re likely going to assume that every Canadian Veteran has PTSD.”
Occupational therapists can play an important role in assisting Canadian Veterans through the transition to public health care and life after service. “Occupational therapy does a really good job at understanding identity and changes and how we can support individuals and systems,” she says. “We understand the impact on functioning because of change, like an injury or illness acquired during service.”
Tam-Seto hopes her research will lead to better resources and training for health care providers, and improved care for Canadian Veterans. She says, “The reason why I’m motivated to do this work is that I’m doing this in service of those who have served us. Veterans put their lives on the line in service for our country and this is my way to support them and give thanks for the work that they have done.”