WASHINGTON – First lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday announced a new collaboration among medical schools across the country to improve veterans’ health care through increased research on military health issues and training so doctors and students better understand how to treat military-specific health conditions.
“No matter where you are, what you’re going through, please know that America will be there for you and your families,” Obama said to the veterans during an appearance at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

The Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine will lead the initiative; 105 medical colleges and 25 osteopathic colleges, including Stanford University, Dartmouth College and John Hopkins University, have signed on.

“The commitment is going to help train the nation’s future physicians,” said Brad Cooper, the executive director of Joining Forces, a program spearheaded by Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden to get private sector support for the nation’s veterans and their families.

Cooper said schools’ participation is voluntary, and no extra funding from the government is involved.

Along with training future health care professionals, other goals of the medical schools’ collaboration include developing improved research and clinical trials to better understand military health care conditions, and sharing knowledge on military health care issues across schools, Cooper added.

For Steven West, associate director of the Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering at collaborative participant VCU, he said the program will allow all health care professionals to obtain experience in identifying and treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury even if those injuries are outside their specialties.

While PTSD and TBI will get a lot of attention, the collaboration will address other combat-related injuries.

Because many veterans get health care through civilian doctors rather than military health facilities, Cooper said, it is necessary for all health care professionals to have some knowledge of PTSD and TBI.

“We have veterans in every corner of this country,” he said. “Our feeling is to best understand the issues this group of heroes face, we’ve got to meet our veterans where they live around the country.”

According to John Prescott, AAMC director of academic affairs, schools and physicians will use two websites, iCollaborative and MedEd Portal, to post information and resources.

“The great efforts that happen around the country, whether it’s a PTSD or TBI expert, can’t just continue to exist in a vacuum or in a silo,” Cooper said. “What he or she finds, what that institution discovers, needs to be quickly moved to those who provide the care and those who are being educated to provide the care.”

Iraq Veterans Against the War spokesman Joseph Carter agreed with the need for health care closer to home for veterans.

Many veterans must travel long distances to reach Veterans Affairs facilities and wait for long periods to get appointments, he said.

Prescott said a survey will be conducted by the AAMC to determine which schools have pertinent classes.