How many veterans or caregivers feel as though they are receiving sub-standard health care from their local Veterans Administration (VA) hospital? The good news is you could be receiving better service and quicker scheduling if you are willing to put in a little effort following these three simple tips.
I am rated 100% Total and Permanent (T&P) from the VA. I have had five surgeries and have been treated at four different East Coast VA hospitals. For many years, I had between three to five VA appointments a month and currently have one to three a month. I did not always receive the high level of care I receive now, so here’s how to greatly improve the level of service you or your loved one is currently experiencing.
First and foremost, you are responsible for your own health care and well-being. This means being proactive rather than reactive. This is essential to receiving the care you deserve. Make your own appointments. When a referral is placed for you to see a specialist in the VA system, do not wait for them to call you to schedule your appointment -- you call them – persistently, if necessary, to schedule the appointment at your convenience. The earlier you call in the day, the better. Always ask to be notified of any cancellation ahead of your appointment so you may have an earlier appointment if it becomes available. If your next appointment is further away than you would like, call the department’s scheduler at least once a week, preferably on a Monday to inquire about the upcoming week’s cancellations. Doing this will help in two ways. It will give a chance to grab a recently canceled appointment, and secondly, it helps to build a good rapport with the schedulers, while simultaneously keeping your name on the department’s staffs’ minds. I have found this helps me see the physician sooner. I am also in the practice of scheduling as many of my appointments on the same day as possible to limit the number of trips.
Second, schedule your appointments in person when you are at the VA. This may require going to the multiple departments to schedule, but the departments can communicate with each other while you are standing in front of them to organize an appointment schedule (pardon the pun) you can live with. It’s a lot harder for someone to tell you no when you are standing in front of him or her and are politely persistent.
Third, utilize the patient advocate. Every VA hospital facility has at least one patient advocate, who is there to handle any issues you may have regarding the hospital or its staff. The patient advocate is available by telephone or electronic communication. However, I recommend stopping into the advocate’s office to discuss your particular issue(s). Be sure to confirm the patient advocate’s office hours before showing up. Issues discussed with the advocate will be investigated, and you are entitled to a response and/or a decision of how the matter is to be handled. I have found great success utilizing my patient advocate, making my interactions with the VA less stressful and more pleasant.
Lastly, the fourth tip is for dire situations only. If you are unable to get an appointment with your doctor or specialist, go to your VA’s emergency department (ED). They are open 24/7 and will treat, or schedule you for the appointment you require with a sense of urgency. Do not forget, the main hospital is closed after 4 or 5 p.m. during the week, on the weekends, and on all federal holidays. So, plan your trip to the ED accordingly. I learned that lesson the hard way, showing up in the ED on the Sunday before Columbus Day.
The VA has a website dedicated to assisting veterans to receive and monitor their health care. Myhealthevet.va.gov allows veterans to access their medical records, view test results, refill prescriptions, monitor appointments (past and future) and most importantly, communicate privately and directly with a physician or department to discuss any medical or scheduling concerns. In my experience, the waiting time for a response has never been more than 24 hours during the workweek. Communication of this type is statistically analyzed by the VA upper leadership, and physicians or departments who consistently have longer than average response times are reprimanded.
I use the VA because it is the only insurance I have, and for me, it is entirely free. However, even if I had private health insurance, I would still utilize the VA because I feel as though I am receiving all the care I require, while being treated with respect for serving my country. Because the VA is nonprofit, I am not asked to have unnecessary procedures or tests done to hike up my bill to the insurance companies. The Veterans Administration Health Care System is the world’s largest teaching institution, and the future doctors who are trained at the VA are instilled with respect for veterans and knowledge that will allow them to be the highly skilled and compassionate physicians I know they will be.
So, all veterans out there give these tips a try. They could save you a lot of time and frustration.
Scott Frezzo is a disabled Iraq War veteran. His ultimate goal is to continue his educational pursuits to one day legally represent veterans as an attorney. He is passionate about advocating for more PTSD awareness programs, and for disabled veterans to receive the quality health care they deserve. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Fairleigh Dickinson University and is currently working toward his master’s degree. He lives in Northern New Jersey.