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HAP Partnership Impact

Veterans with chronic intestinal diseases find hope and help through new support group

Gastroenterologist and Health Services Researcher Jason K. Hou, M.D., M.S., F.A.C.G.
Gastroenterologist and Health Services Researcher Jason K. Hou, M.D., M.S., F.A.C.G.


For this year’s World Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) day on May 19th, Veterans have a new way to receive support.

IBD collectively refers to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, diseases that cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and inflammation of the colon which can lead to painful ulcers, among other symptoms. Research indicates an estimated 66,000 Veterans live with IBD. The good news is that Veterans Health Administration (VHA) partner Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation recently launched an online support group for Veterans with IBD.

“As Veterans seek care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) healthcare system, they need to learn how to be their own health advocate,” said Catherine Soto, Senior Director, Patient Education & Support for the Foundation.

The Foundation’s new private Facebook group welcomes Veterans and active-duty Service members with IBD to join and engage in discussions. The group is also facilitated by a Veteran with IBD.

VHA partnered with the Foundation last year to improve the quality of life of Veterans with IBD. VA Gastroenterologist and Health Services Researcher, Dr. Jason K. Hou, said this partnership is part of many expansions to IBD Veteran care, including adding affordable, advanced therapies and IBD-specialized providers within VA. He noted the partnership helps increase educational opportunities for patients and providers and reaches Veterans receiving IBD care outside VHA.

“IBD historically has been very difficult to treat, and many patients have learned to "just deal" with their symptoms,” said Dr. Hou. “With current therapies, we are able to help many of our patients achieve remission.”

As part of VHA’s partnership with the Foundation, the Foundation launched a Veteran-specific page on their website last Fall where Veterans with IBD and their caregivers can learn more about the disease, understand concerns about care relating to transitioning out of the military, and connect to VA resources.

Soto said this Veteran webpage has since received 10,400 page visits.

“That’s why we wanted to partner with the VHA to help raise awareness of IBD among veterans and help educate them about what kind of doctor or specialist to see for treatment, where to go for care and how to best manage their disease,” said Soto.

Among the resources linked on the website are how to find a local VA medical facility, VHA’s diet, exercise, and mental health care tips for Veterans with IBD, and VA’s health app, Myhealthevet to help Veterans communicate with their healthcare team.

“It is unclear if Veterans have any higher risk of developing IBD compared to non-Veterans, although our studies have shown the total number of Veterans with IBD have grown dramatically in the past 2 decades,” said Dr. Hou, who noted that the VHA system had one of the largest IBD patient populations of any US health care system.

Treating IBD and caring for Veteran patients is part of VA’s top priority to prevent Veteran suicides: A 2020 study of VA data found that over time, rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder increased among Veterans diagnosed with IBD.

World IBD Day this May is not the only event this year where Veterans and their caregivers can learn about the disease and ways to access help through VA.

Soto said the Foundation will be hosting several events for Veterans with IBD, including webinars with gastroenterologists to help Veterans patients or their caregivers learn about VHA care for IBD. And in November, she said the Foundation will be hosting a Facebook Live video chat on Veterans Day.

To learn more about the Foundation and future events, please visit https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/

To read more about partnerships facilitated by VHA’s National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships, please visit https://www.va.gov/HEALTHPARTNERSHIPS/index.asp.

 

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Posted May 19, 2022 | Updated May 31, 2022