It is well known that the VA has been plagued by scandal after scandal, when it comes to veterans’ health care issues. It is also well known that veterans are frustrated with the medical care they are receiving through the VA health care system. This is a topic that is always discussed during the election cycle, yet, it seems that year after year, nothing really gets done in order to actually solve the problems.
Some of the most common complaints that I hear on almost on a daily basis, include concerns about unreasonably long wait times to be scheduled for appointments with VA health care providers, concerns about VA medical providers being unresponsive to patient needs, and just overall concerns about inadequate health care in general.
What I’ve found, is that once a veteran is upset with the VA health care system, that frustration tends to impact the veteran in every other aspect of his/her life. Basically, there’s a trickle-down effect.
As an advocate, I always encourage my clients to make sure that they are receiving regular and ongoing medical treatment, for all impairments. The reason for that advice is simple. If a veteran is trying to prove service-connected disability, and/or trying to prove that his or her disabilities have worsened, the first thing that the VA is going to do, is look to see if the veteran has current and ongoing medical treatment. If there is no current treatment, then the VA’s default position is normally to assume that the veteran’s disabilities aren’t that severe. In other words, the VA’s thought is that, if the condition actually exists or if the condition is severe, then the veteran would be getting treatment.
The reality is that there are many different reasons why a veteran may not be receiving medical care. However, the unfortunate part is that when the VA Regional Office is evaluating the strength of a VA disability claim, the underlying reasons why a veteran is not receiving treatment don’t really seem to matter. To the VA, either the veteran is being treated or not, which then results in the VA believing that either the disabilities are serious, or, in the case of non-treatment, that they are not.
The good news is, for veterans who have stopped treating at the VA due to frustration with their health care, there are some options. I admit that these options aren’t the perfect solution, and, that there may be some red tape in order to get through the process. But, I do believe that these options are definitely worth a try.
The Patient Advocacy Program
If a veteran is having an issue with his or her VA health care, the Patient Advocacy Program may be a viable option. Each VA medical facility has a Patient Advocate, and that person’s job is solely to help veterans with concerns related to VA health care issues.
Of course, the VA always encourages veterans to attempt to resolve problems through their assigned treatment team first. In other words, if there is an issue with any members of the treatment team, the veteran is encouraged to discuss those issues with the treatment team first, or, within the chain of command for the treatment team.
However, if that doesn’t work, or, if the veteran doesn’t feel comfortable with the treatment team, I believe that veterans can, and should, reach out to the Patient Advocate. The Patient Advocate’s job is to act as a liaison between the veteran and the treatment team, in order to effectively resolve problems. Therefore, veterans should utilize this resource whenever necessary, in order to help effectuate change.
For more information about the Patient Advocacy Program, please click here.
The Veterans Choice Program
The Veterans Choice Program is a newer VA program, just developed within the last few years. The purpose of the Choice Program is to give veterans faster access to healthcare, but also, access to health care that is outside of the VA and in the private sector. Essentially, the goal is for the VA health care system to help alleviate their backlog by giving veterans access to the care that they need, through the private sector.
There are a few different ways for a veteran to be eligible for the Choice Program. Here are some of the ways:
- The veteran must be enrolled in VA health care, and also
- Meet at least one of the criteria below:
- The veteran is not able to be seen at his/her local VA facility within 30 days
- The veteran lives more than 40 miles away from a VA medical facility
- The Veteran faces an unusual or excessive burden in traveling to a VA medical facility based on geographic challenges, environmental factors, or a medical condition.
- The Veteran lives in a State or Territory without a full-service VA medical facility, for example, Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire (with some exceptions), and the U.S. Territories (excluding Puerto Rico).
Importantly, if a veteran is deemed eligible for the Choice Program, participation in that program should not otherwise affect the veteran’s eligibility to receive health care through the main VA system. Additionally, the veteran’s VA copayments should remain the same, whether or not the care is received through the VA or privately through the Choice Program.
For more information about the Veterans Choice Program, please go online to the VA’s website. The veteran can also contact his/her local VAMC facility in order to get more information.
As an advocate, I strongly encourage my clients to consider the Choice Program as a viable option.