About a third of all veterans are smokers, and now they’ve been banned from doing so outside of all Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities in the country they once put their lives on the line for.
Smoking has been prohibited within VA facilities for years, relegated to designated shelters outside the main buildings. And there’s no doubt that smoking, which many veterans have acquired a taste for during their service, is not a healthy practice. Still, months of promoting the ban, on signs around VA campuses, in social media posts, and in letters, have not all been welcome.
“I get the aspect that it’s a hospital and for all practical purposes you shouldn’t be smoking inside the VA,” veteran Jeff Holland told the Associated Press. “But as far outside, I think they should still have a smoking area. I mean you got guys from World War I, World War II where this is all they have known for 40 or 50 years. To kind of take that right away, it’s kind of a shame.”
“It’s going a little too far,” said Gregory d’Arbonne, president of the New Hampshire chapter of the Association of the United States Army. “I’m against smoking, but there are people who smoke. When they do, they go outside and have this little smoking area. Now, what are they going to do?”
In updating its smoking policy, the VA is aligning its standards with the 4,000 other civilian medical facilities and national health care systems across the U.S. that prohibit smoking.
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“This is a really good thing for our veterans and our staff,” said Kevin Forrest, associate director of the Manchester VA in New Hampshire. “It’s a safer environment. It reduces fire risk. There is certainly evidence that smoking and second-hand exposure is a medical risk for our veterans.”
All health risks aside, there is concern that some veterans will simply forgo doctors visits, choosing instead to stay home and light up.
“We recognize this is a difficult change for many folks,” said John D’Adamo, co-chair of the smoke-free implementation working group for VA Boston. “This is a major cultural change. It’s really been something often utilized for camaraderie, essentially a sense of community.”
D’Adamo’s group is gradually rolling out the ban over the course of a few months. All told, it’s estimated to affect at least 62,000 veterans.
After the ban has been implemented, anyone caught smoking on VA property will be given a warning for the first violation, with law enforcement being called on any subsequent incidents.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.