This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden take part in a “Joining Forces” nurses event at the University of Pennsylvania on April 11. UB faculty member Deborah Finnell was one of the nursing leaders who attended the event. Photo: LAWRENCE JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE

Deborah Finnell

As part of their “Joining Forces” initiative, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden met with leaders from 150 nursing organizations and 450 nursing schools who signed a pledge to educate current and future nurses to treat U.S. soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and depression, as well as other conditions caused by the physical and/or mental effects of battle.

One of those nurse leaders was Deborah Finnell, UB associate professor of nursing who is also the president of the International Nurses Society on Addiction.

The UB Reporter sat down with Finnell to talk about Joining Forces and how this initiative will impact the nursing research and treatment of veterans with addictions.

  • Deborah Finnell

Published: May 17, 2012

What is the International Nurses Society on Addiction (IntNSA) and how long have you been president?

IntNSA is a professional organization for nurses committed to the prevention, intervention, treatment and management of addictive disorders. Our goal is to help nurses provide care for patients with addictions and their families. Addiction is so prevalent in all communities that all nurses must have basic knowledge and skills in addiction.

I have been president of the organization since September of 2010.

Why is IntNSA a partner in Joining Forces?

There are about 1.5 million U.S. armed forces as of December 2011 and 21.9 million veterans as of 2009. Military personnel have experienced a high number of deployments and greater exposure to stressors, along with the day-to-day and family stress related to phases of deployment. The potential impact of military service has far reaching consequences throughout society:

  • 27 percent of U.S. army soldiers screened positive for alcohol misuse three to four months after returning from deployment in Iraq
  • 34.4 percent of veterans screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use
  • Among current-era veterans, 40 percent screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use and 22 percent tested positive for possible alcohol-use disorder
  • The 2008 rate for illicit drug use, including prescription drugs, was 12 percent, up 7 percent from 2005
  • Alcohol use was involved in 30 percent of Army suicide deaths from 2003-09 and in more than 45 percent of non-fatal suicide attempts from 2005-09

If you take into account multiple deployments and then factor in the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and depression—all brain-based disorders—along with high co-morbidity with alcohol and drugs, the needs are tremendous.

The first person these veterans have contact with in either an in-patient or out-patient setting is often a nurse. At numbers of more than 3 million, nurses represent the largest component within the U.S. health care workforce. And, nurses are the most-trusted health profession.

Therefore, training nurses to recognize the signs and symptoms of addiction, no matter how subtle, and to initiate treatment will help to combat the disease.

What has IntNSA pledged to do for veterans?

The IntNSA will:

  • Educate future nurses to care for veterans and their families who have been impacted by substance use and addiction
  • Enrich nursing education about the unique clinical challenges associated with care for soldiers, veterans and their families
  • Disseminate the most current information as it relates to prevention and intervention of substance abuse and addiction for veterans
  • Increase knowledge leading to improvements in health care for these men and women

What part is UB playing in this effort?

For the past 10 years, I have focused my research on addiction at the Buffalo Veterans Administration hospital. And I have brought that work into the classroom, involving my students in the research.

For all the reasons that I’ve already stated, we at UB need to educate our students, our current workforce and Western New York health care professionals about the prevention and intervention of addiction, certainly for our military but also for all individuals because it is a growing problem.

What was it like to be invited to the Joining Forces event in Philadelphia on April 11?

It was very exciting to be among so many nurse leaders and dignitaries who have dedicated themselves and their institutions to helping service members and their families.

One of the greatest challenges in treating soldiers and veterans with addictions is the stigma associated with getting help for substance abuse.

The first lady spoke in an impassioned way and looked directly into the audience saying that it is courageous to seek help for these problems and that we all would be there for our returning soldiers and veterans.

It was moving.