After noticing a Vietnam War tattoo on a patient’s arm during an urgent care shift, Col. Todd Fredricks, DO, asked the man about his service in the Army. During the conversation that followed, the man began to cry. He’d been struggling with the loss of a comrade who’d died in front of him, he said, and Dr. Fredricks was the first physician to ask him about his military experience in the last 50 years.
An Army National Guard Officer who has completed three tours in Iraq, Dr. Fredricks understands the health care challenges veterans face. His efforts to improve veterans’ health care go beyond his own practice of medicine: In addition to teaching medical students about service members’ health issues and publishing peer-reviewed research on the topic, Dr. Fredricks is producing The Veterans’ Project, a documentary that seeks to improve civilian clinicians’ understanding of military medicine and veterans’ health care.
The Veterans’ Project features Dr. Fredricks’ interviews with veterans and experts on traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I talked to veterans specifically about how they struggle with health issues and what they think civilian doctors should know about them when they walk in,” says Dr. Fredricks.
The documentary is currently in the final stages of editing and will be entered into film festivals this spring, including the GI Film Festival, which focuses on veterans’ stories. It will be available to the public for free viewing this summer.
From idea to film
As an assistant professor of family medicine at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM) in Athens, Dr. Fredricks has been teaching medical students about the unique health issues soldiers and service members experience.
Curious about the average civilian physician’s knowledge of veterans’ health, Dr. Fredricks conducted a study on that very topic that was published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. The study found that civilian physicians have a moderate level of comfort when dealing with issues of veterans’ health care, which means there’s room for improvement.
Seeking a balance between peer-reviewed research and storytelling, Dr. Fredricks partnered with Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication to produce The Veterans’ Project. In the three years he’s spent working on the film, Dr. Fredricks has traveled the country interviewing veterans and experts on veterans’ health issues. After providing detailed education on the topic, the documentary ends with viable, practical tips for civilian physicians to use when caring for those who have completed military service.
Noting that veterans constitute a significant proportion of the US population, Dr. Fredricks says the nation’s health suffers when it doesn’t address the unique health needs of its veterans.
“Over 100 of a physician’s patients in a panel of 3,000 will be veterans. That’s a large group of people,” says Dr. Fredricks.
Second film in the works
While working on The Veterans’ Project, Dr. Fredricks and his film team realized they had enough material left over to create a second film sharing stories about medical professionals who go to war.
“I am ecstatic because this will elevate what we do at OU-HCOM, and most importantly, it will create some conversation that didn’t exist before about what we need to do to bridge this gap,” he says.