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U of M School of Nursing program helping to replenish VA workforce

Most people might not believe it, but the Department of Veterans Affairs is not only one of the largest health care providers here in the U.S., but in the entire world.

Given this reality, it would seem only natural to assume that the VA is well funded, well run and well staffed. Regarding this last point, agency projections actually show that as much as 40 percent of its current health care workforce will be eligible for retirement by as soon as 2020, and that 23 percent of these workers will actually retire.

Closer to home, these statistics show that roughly 25 percent of the direct care nurses currently employed at the VA's Minneapolis facility are eligible for retirement in one form or another.

This reality of a shrinking VA workforce coupled with a steady population of older vets requiring specialized care and a growing number of younger vets requiring preventive care has the agency undertaking new and exciting ventures.   

For instance, it awarded the University of Minnesota School of Nursing a $5.3 million grant back in 2013 to help fund a training program designed to prepare nursing students for the unique medical challenges associated with caring for our nation's vets.

Indeed, among this year's graduating class are 20 nurses who spent two of their four years of study at the Minneapolis VA, undertaking comprehensive training in everything from long-term rehabilitation to psychiatric mental health, and actively engaging with the patients.

"It's really to infuse this knowledge base in the health care professional world," said one of the program's co-directors. "There's a very big emphasis on learning about veterans and what the needs of veterans are."  

Some of these unique needs include properly treating post-traumatic stress disorder and those medical conditions that may be unique to those who served in certain conflicts (i.e., Agent Orange exposure among Vietnam vets).

The U of M has indicated that even though the federal funds for the program are projected to be exhausted within the next two years, it still intends to keep the program using a smaller number of students.

It's encouraging to see a new generation of nurses providing our nation's vets with the top-quality care they deserve. They should not only be commended for all of their hard work and dedication to their training, but also protected in the event state licensing officials investigate the care they've provided. 

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