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College to train nurses in unique specialty

Veterans and military health

​American civilians think of military health care either as long lines at the VA or field hospitals similar to the TV show M*A*S*H. But as health care and warfare have advanced, so have the health care needs of service members. Today, injured soldiers who arrive alive to the combat hospital have a 98% survival rate. Although a vast improvement from previous wars, it also leaves the country with a larger population for which to provide care.

The complexities of health care for veterans and military personnel are challenging and there are no academic degree programs devoted to this specialty practice. The University of Colorado, College of Nursing is working to change that. This fall, the college hired Ret. Col. Mona Pearl, PhD, RN, CNS, CCRN, to develop education offerings that will train caregivers in the unique needs of this growing population.

“Veterans and military personnel have a unique blend of complex health care issues that cross the spectrum within the Veterans Administration and Military Health System,” says Pearl. “Health care professionals focus in on the clinical conditions, viewing the veteran and service member as having the same needs as every other population based on disease process. However, veterans and military service members by virtue of their experience, military service, family immersion in military culture, and unique health care delivery systems are worthy of a professional specialty that provides critical and analytical scholarship of their unique needs.”

Pearl is a master’s prepared nurse who served as the deputy commander of the Mobile Aeromedical Staging Facility during Operations JOINT ENDEAVOR and JOINT GUARD in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina. During Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM, Col. Pearl was on an alert aeromedical evacuation crew to care for wounded and later deployed to care for returning combat casualties at Malcolm Grow Medical Center, Andrews AFB, MD. As Director of the Medical Directorate for the Chief of the Air Force Reserve, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, she managed over $2 billion in programmed reserve medical assets supporting 63 units and 70,000+ reservists and families. She also conducted liaison activities with Department of Defense agencies, all Services and Components, General Officers, the Secretary of the Air Force, major commands, and staff in the Offices of the Assistant Secretaries of Defense for Health Affairs, Reserve Affairs, and Force Management Policy by providing legislative expertise related to health benefits, medical professionals, and execution of medical programs. She was awarded the Legion of Merit in 2014.

“Our troops are returning from more than a dozen years of war,” she says. “We have honed our knowledge with intense experience, and now we need to take their care to the next level—codifying this as a professional specialty rooted in academic scholarship and meriting academic specialty degrees.”

The first military and veteran’s health courses are expected in spring 2015, with degree programs in the specialty to follow by fall.

The CU College of Nursing is positioned just minutes away from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, and just an hour from the Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs. The college currently offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs at two locations and online.​