On one side of a counter, a disgruntled Veteran points to a sheet of paper in front of him while he loudly explains his problem to a VA staff member seated across from him. The staff member, a patient advocate, calmly responds to the Veteran’s questions, taking notes during the conversation and assuring the patient that the matter will be further examined. The calm responses appear to take the Veteran’s stress level down a couple of notches, and he quietly leaves.
The Patient Advocate Program was developed to provide patients and their families with assistance in a complex and technical health care system. The advocates serve as a liaison between the patient and the VA. They focus on providing the best customer service for Veterans by using all resources available to accomplish the mission.
Their motto of “Putting Veterans First” is not taken lightly by the team. Most of their patient sessions are on a walk-in basis, though they do schedule the occasional appointment.
“We listen to both sides and try to come up with a resolution that will benefit both the patient and the staff,” said Betty Vallejos, who has been in this position for 17 years at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque. “It is our responsibility to keep management informed with situations that arise that will affect the medical center either in a positive or negative way.”
For most of her years on the job, Vallejos, a U.S. Army Veteran, was one of only two full-time patient advocates at the medical center.
Until recently, the only other patient advocate in her office in the main lobby was Al Whitt, a U.S. Navy Veteran. But several months ago, the Patient Advocate Office was relocated closer to the Emergency Department. Given more office space to work with, their unit then doubled in size when two more, full-time patient advocates joined them. Joe Baca is a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, and Randy Vigil is a U.S. Army Veteran.
Available at every medical center, Patient Advocates are highly trained professionals who can help resolve concerns about any aspect of a Veteran’s health care experience, particularly those concerns that cannot be resolved at the point of care. Patient Advocates listen to any questions, problems, or special needs and refer concerns to the appropriate Medical Center staff for resolution.
Patient Advocate contact information is available on each Medical Center site. Find your medical center’s web site.
About the Author: Bill Armstrong is a Public Affairs Specialist at the Albuquerque VAMC