April 29, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy
Support for disabled veterans has become a growing concern for occupational therapy practitioners. It was identified by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) in 2011 as an “emerging niche”. Sadly, with over 1 million people in active duty, and over 22 million veterans, this need is not going away any time soon. Two wars in recent years have resulted in an increasing number of veterans who have returned home with disabilities.
Veterans frequently suffer from a variety of ailments, including mental and emotional conditions and a variety of physical injuries. All of these create additional obstacles to the already challenging situation of attempting to re-enter society and the workforce after active duty. Occupational therapy is the practice which strives to help people restore meaning and purpose in their lives, by facilitating their return to performing the daily activities that they need and wish to do. Thus occupational therapists play an integral role in helping disabled veterans as they attempt to return to normal and healthy lives in their homes and community.
Occupational therapy provides excellent support for returning disabled veterans, because it takes a holistic approach to address their diverse needs. This is accomplished by helping vets resume meaningful daily activities, including eating, bathing, grooming, and going to the bathroom. In some cases, they assist patients with more complex activities like returning to work, driving, cooking, parenting, and even sexual activity.
The typical approach of occupational therapy is to assess the condition of the individual, their performance, and their environment. OT practitioners then make recommendations for modifications to the patient’s lifestyle, their activities, and their homes (and in some cases workplaces), all with the goal of enabling their return to meaningful activity.
For the many disabled veterans who have been wounded, for example with spinal cord injuries, occupational therapists will advise and train on ways to move, sit, and so on, in a manner that will avoid further injuries and fatigue. They will also often recommend assistive equipment to aid in performing daily activities. This includes familiar devices like wheelchairs, guiderails, and ramps, as well as less well-known products like lifting devices which assist one in moving in and out of bed or getting dressed.
Other patients with traumatic brain injuries may require different types of support, including remembering chores or other routine activities they need to do. The growing number of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have yet another set of needs. Instruction on relaxation techniques and new coping skills can be extremely valuable, and help alleviate depression, anxiety, and despair, and may help prevent substance abuse.
Disabled veterans may face a lifetime plagued with a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Occupational therapy includes the belief that everyone has the desire and the right to engage in meaningful activities, and so, provides a variety of effective solutions for veterans.