Find common veterans health and medical topics starting with the letter O that are related to military service. The guide covers health topics from A to Z. Read on for more information about occupational therapy, optometry, opioid safety and more VA health topics in the “O” category.
This is an ongoing series and more veterans health topics and letters are coming soon.
Note: What follows should not be taken as medical advice and is not intended as a diagnosis. This page is general information related to common veterans conditions and should not replace advice from your health care provider.
Occupational therapy, also known as OT, is a kind of care that incorporates “everyday life activities with individuals or groups for the purpose of participation in occupations and roles” at home, work, school, and the community.
The VA approach to OT includes employing Occupational Therapists and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs) to provide services for qualifying vets “who have, or are at risk for developing” medical conditions that include physical, cognitive, sensory, and psychosocial aspects, according to the VA official site.
The American Occupational Therapy Association says occupational therapy services can typically include (but are not limited to) individualized evaluation, “customized intervention,” and outcomes evaluations.
The Veteran Health Administration has over 1,300 Occupational Therapists and Occupational Therapist Assistants and OT services are available at more than 200 VHA sites. The VA approach allows for inpatient and outpatient treatment, as well as services provided at community centers, veteran retirement homes, and via the internet or by phone.
OEF/OIF (Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has special care options for veterans who have served in certain capacities since 9/11. The VA program was once known as the OEF/OIF Program and later known as the OEF/OIF/OND Program before being rebranded as the Transition and Care Management Program.
Some of the benefits offered through this VA option include “cost free medical care for any condition related to their service in a combat theater for five years after the date of their discharge or release” for those who are considered Post 9/11 combat veterans.
Another benefit offered to combat veterans in this capacity? Community-based counseling facilities known as Vet Centers. The VA provides “social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling” for qualifying vets, active duty, National Guard and Reserve components, and family members.
Vet Centers offer combat veterans readjustment help following traumatic incidents or when it’s time to retire or separate from military service. The Department of Veterans Affairs also provides mobile Vet Centers to extend the reach of these services to veterans who need them.
Cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetes-related eye problems are said to be among the leading causes of vision loss in veterans, and that’s not counting injuries or other problems sustained in combat operations.
The VA official site points out that vision care in the wake of 9/11 is an important part of treating veterans returning from deployments such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. That’s one reason why the VA Ophthalmology Service is described by the VA as a crucial part of VA health care.
The VA provides such services via a large number of ophthalmologists (more than a thousand!) providing vision-related medical and surgical care at more than 130 facilities.
What is an ophthalmologist? The VA describes them as medical doctors who have been through medical school, internships, and a required ophthalmology residency. VA caregivers in this field may also take additional training in the form of fellowships to study glaucoma, retinal diseases, and much more.
Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI)
The VA recognizes the opioid epidemic as a serious problem. Among veterans who need pain management options for severe injuries or other conditions, the concerns related to addiction and opioid abuse are real, especially with the large number of opioid medications available. Those medicines include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Endocet,)
- Morphine (MS Contin, Kadian, Oramorph SR)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Codeine (Tylenol®with Codeine #3, Tylenol with Codeine #4)
- Methadone (Dolophine HCL, MethadoseTM)
- Tramadol (Ultram)
- Buprenorphine (Butrans)
- Oxymorphone (Opana)
- Tapentadol (Nucynta)
According to the VA, long-term opioid treatment can result in “potentially severe harm” of long-term opioid therapy. A 2010 publication, Clinical Practice Guideline for Management of Opioid Therapy for Chronic Pain could not have anticipated the severity of a “growing epidemic of opioid misuse and opioid use disorder” among Americans in general.
The VA Opioid Safety Initiative includes toolkits and awareness campaigns, as well as alternative advice given to patients who may face long-term opioid treatments; the VA recommends both non-medical treatment such as cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, chiropractic therapy, acupuncture, and more.
But there are also medication-related opioid alternatives, including recommended anti-inflammatories, topicals, certain kinds of antidepressants, and more. The type of treatment will depend greatly on individual patient needs, but the gist of this effort is to raise awareness among patients and caregivers alike that alternatives to opioids are available and should be explored as less potentially harmful approaches to pain management and other medical needs.
1976 saw the creation of the Veterans Health Administration Optometry Service. In the view of the Department of Veterans Affairs, optometry and ophthalmology are approached as “equal partners working together to provide the full spectrum of primary, secondary and tertiary eye care services” for qualifying veterans.
VA initiatives in the realm of eye care include the establishment of VA/Department of Defense Diabetes Mellitus Clinical Practice Guidelines, the VA Teleretinal Imaging Screening Program, and related efforts to help veterans avoid preventable blindness from diabetic retinopathy.
VA optometry services include low vision rehab services, help with glaucoma, macular degeneration, dry eye syndrome, and much more. The Department of Veterans Affairs also actively recruits optometrists and related eye care professionals to continue serving veterans who need eye care. You can learn more about VA vision care services and how to contact the VA to learn about vision care career options at the VA official site.
The VA offers dental care benefits to qualifying Veterans. Not all veterans are eligible for VA dental care, but there is a comprehensive list in the VA publication, Dental Benefits for Veterans.
Veterans who recently served may be entitled to “a one-time course of free dental care” but the requirement to claim this benefit is to apply for dental care within 180 days of your official date of discharge from a period of active duty of 90 days or more. Any military discharge besides Dishonorable is acceptable assuming the veteran meets the other requirements.
General oral hygiene in the self-care department is encouraged by the VA in all cases, but some oral conditions are unrelated to brushing and flossing. Oral cancer is a concern for some veterans and there are indications you should pay attention to if you notice any of the following symptoms persisting for longer than 14 days:
- A sore or uncomfortable spot in your mouth, lip, or throat
- Any lump or thick area in the mouth, lip, or throat
- A white or red patch in the mouth
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue
- Numbness in your tongue or mouth
- Jaw swelling
- Pain in one ear (but with no hearing loss)
If you were treated for such a condition while serving, you should talk to a VA representative prior to retiring or separating to see if an oral health claim is justified. Veterans who have certain oral health issues that manifested while serving or as a result of military service may be entitled to VA care for such conditions.
There are several issues related to osteoporosis, but one of the biggest is a calcium-deficient diet. According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the American diet can be lacking in calcium. One of the best ways to prevent bone loss and increase calcium intake is through low-fat dairy products and/or food with added calcium. You can increase your calcium intake with:
- Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
- Fat-free or low-fat yogurt
- Low-fat cheese (3 grams of fat or less per serving)
- Soymilk with added calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D
- Turnip greens
- Chinese cabbage (bok choy)
- Collard greens
- Breakfast cereal
- 100% orange juice
- Almond milk
- Rice milk
Aging veterans may have to contend with bone loss issues in conjunction with other medical problems, so it’s best to consult a primary care provider or your VA healthcare team to see what may be advisable under certain treatment regiments.
You should not modify existing treatments in any way without consulting your doctor-that includes dietary changes, adding supplements, or other over-the-counter options. This is true even if the changes seem to be beneficial-you may not have all the details or facts necessary to add or remove dietary or medication-related options to an existing course of medical care.
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