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New policy requires VA health care facilities to go smoke-free

Posted at 5:24 PM, Jul 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-25 19:32:28-04

Veterans Affairs Hospitals across the country will soon be smoke-free.

The announcement comes after a new directive was sent out from Capitol Hill.

The directive read in part, "as part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' commitment to provide quality health care for Veterans, a new policy restricting smoking by patients, visitors, volunteers, and contractors will go into effect October 1st."

"WASHINGTON — As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) commitment to provide excellent health care for Veterans, the department will implement a new policy restricting smoking by patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors at its health care facilities by October.

Although VA has historically permitted smoking in designated areas, there is growing evidence that smoking and exposure to secondhand and thirdhand smoke creates significant medical risks, and risks to safety and direct patient care that are inconsistent with medical requirements and limitations. Accordingly, VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has collaborated with key stakeholders to update and recertify the policy to be consistent with the department’s commitment to Veterans and the community.

A recent VA survey revealed that approximately 85% of responding facility leadership support smoke-free campuses, and this new policy for patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors allows VA to ensure the health and well-being of VA staff, patients and the public.

“We are not alone in recognizing the importance of creating a smoke-free campus,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “As of 2014, 4,000 health care facilities and four national health care systems in the U.S. have implemented smoke-free grounds. This policy change coincides with additional VHA efforts to help us become the provider of choice for Veterans and the reason why Veterans will ChooseVA.”

VHA’s new smoke-free policy applies to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, any other combustion of tobacco and non-Federal Drug Administration approved electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), including but not limited to electronic or e-cigarettes, vape pens or e-cigars."
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"Most campuses are already smoke-free as are most civilian healthcare facilities across the nation, so we are jumping on board," Veteran Health Education Coordinator Nancy Bullard said.

The change is one that most believe will receive mixed reactions. "Some of the older veterans are going to be upset because it’s a routine habit to them, but I can see it as a positive because most of the people are coming in here to be taken care of and the cigarettes are what's causing their problems," U.S. Army Veteran Robert Helems said.

A team on the VA Campus in Temple has been preparing for the change since the beginning of the summer. Officials said warnings of the policy change will start being posted around the Austin, Waco and Temple campuses in July.

"Over the next few weeks, you are going to see posters and signs go up around our medical center, we will start to dismantle some of the smoking centers that are on our campuses,” Acting Assistant Director for Operations at Waco Kevin Maxson said.

While this policy does not mandate that veterans stop smoking entirely, VA officials add they hope it is a step in helping them achieve whole health which is an initiative set forth by the Veterans’ Health Administration

"We are not telling them they cannot smoke, we are hoping that by eliminating smoking on our campus gives them the impetus to stop smoking entirely,” Maxson added.

Any veteran looking to quit tobacco-use can find resources at their local VA.

The Veterans Health Education Department can be reached at (254) 743-0433.