North Carolina has more than 736,000 veterans, and they could see improved health care now that the VA has granted them direct access to nurse practitioners, Forbes reported Tuesday.
Nurse practitioners launched a campaign last year pushing to be part of the solution to a much-maligned Veterans Affairs Department. It also is a critical time for the profession. Nurse practitioners have more than doubled to more than 200,000 in the past 10 years, Forbes reported, and are looking to expand their care network.
As their numbers grow, advanced practice registered nurses have become more familiar to people, gaining them wide support in their bid to become a larger part of the VA.
The VA has been criticized for long wait times – sometimes weeks or even months – along with failing to meet the basic needs of some of its patients, including those in North Carolina. Last month, the chairman of the Johnston County commissioners, Tony Braswell, railed against the VA in his Veterans Day speech.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs is amending its medical regulations to permit full practice authority of three roles of VA advanced practice registered nurses when they are acting within the scope of their VA employment,” the VA said in a summary of the final decision today, Forbes reported. “This rule-making increases veterans’ access to VA healthcare by expanding the pool of qualified healthcare professionals who are authorized to provide primary healthcare and other related healthcare services to the full extent of their education, training and certification, without the clinical supervision of physicians.”
More than 4,800 nurse practitioners work in the VA system now, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. They provide clinical assessments, order and interpret diagnostic tests, make diagnoses, and initiate and manage treatment plans, including prescribing medication, Forbes reported.
Nationwide there are nearly 21.5 million veterans. They make up nearly 10 percent of North Carolina’s population, according to data from the UNC Carolina Population Center.
The median age of North Carolina veterans is 61, according to data from the UNC Carolina Population Center. Most are 45 or older. More than 90 percent are men, and most are white. Most North Carolina veterans live in Charlotte, the Triangle and the Triad. Fayetteville and Jacksonville have the highest concentration of veterans, though. Most of them served during the Vietnam War. Nearly 500,000 of North Carolina’s veterans served in one war, but more than 70,000 served in two or more.
Dr. Cindy Cooke, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, applauded the VA for providing veterans direct access.
“This final rule is a critical step for America’s veterans to be able to obtain timely, high-quality care in the Veterans Health System,” said Cooke, who spent more than a decade providing primary-care services to active duty and retired military personnel and their families. “We are pleased the VA will move forward with allowing veterans throughout the country to have direct access to nurse practitioner provided health care.”
The next hope, AANP said, is for the VA to propose a plan to include certified registered nurse anesthetists in the provision. That measure has been opposed by the American Medical Association.
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett