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Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence

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Reaching Veterans with MS Via Nurses

Patricia Wadsley*

VA and NMSS Team Up 
John Dystel Nursing Fund

“When my mother was diagnosed many years ago, there were no treatments for MS,” said Carol Johnson, RN, a registered nurse at the Veterans’ Hospital in San Diego. “I grew up thinking that there was nothing you could do about it. That all changed when I went to a program at the Veterans Administration.”

VA and NMSS Team Up

Last year, Johnson and over 30 other RNs from Veterans’ hospitals across the country attended the John Dystel Nursing Program, a three-day training course about MS at the VA’s MS Center for Excellence West, jointly sponsored by the Society and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Certified MS nurses taught the RNs to identify and manage symptoms and understand the disease-modifying therapies. In addition, the nurses learned about resources available to vets.

This training is especially important because there have been some hints, but insufficient proof, of a higher incidence of MS among service people. The Department of Defense provides full benefits to Veterans who develop MS within seven years of their service. But many VA hospitals are under-resourced in terms of MS specialists. “That’s where we thought nurses could step in,” said Nancy Holland, EdD, RN, MSCN, vice president of Clinical Programs for the Society, who is a board member of the VA’s Centers of Excellence. “Much MS care is about managing symptoms, and nurses are specialists at helping their patients do that.”
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John Dystel Nursing Fund

The VA’s two MS Centers of Excellence—East in Baltimore and West in Seattle—have the most up-to-date rehabilitation facilities, as well as neurologists and other MS specialists. Aware of the need for more MS care for vets in small VA hospitals or medical centers, the VA in collaboration with the Society and with support from the Society’s Dystel Nursing Fund established the Dystel Nursing Program.

“I am a primary care nurse,” Johnson said. “Often patients come to me with symptoms they cannot identify. Or they have been diagnosed with MS, and they don’t know if they can get benefits. Either way, I now know how to help get a better assessment that may gain them benefits and VA resources.”

Jim Hunziker, a registered nurse from the VA MS Center of Excellence West, reports that many nurses who attended the program want to continue their training to become MS certified, too. “The training certainly got them interested and helped with their care plans,” Hunziker said. (For more information on MS nursing certification

The fourth Dystel Nursing Program will take place in 2010. Meanwhile, the Society is reaching out to vets through a chapter-by-chapter initiative as many are unaware they could be eligible for VA services. “We are a military town and want to let vets know that we have resources they can use,” said Karen Hooper, vice president of Programs and Services at the Pacific Coast Chapter in San Diego. “We want to take care of our vets.”

*Patricia Wadsley is on staff at ­Momentum. Reprinted from MOMENTUM, Fall 2009, with permission of the National MS Society. For more information, call 1-800-FIGHT MS.
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Date Posted: October 2009