How simple “life hacks” can make your VA health care system experience positive


shadow

Editor’s note:  A “life hack” is a tool that makes things easier or a tip that helps you be more productive or get things done. In this article, a Marine Veteran shares the “hacks” he uses to make his experience at VA a positive one.

I have been a VA customer since I left the Marines in 2009 and have had nothing but a fantastic customer experience. So, it pains me to see other Veterans having a rough time.

I’ve always been curious as to why the outspoken majority on social media have complaints instead of praise for VA services. I realize that negative experiences motivate Veterans to post their complaints more so than positive experiences, but I still have to wonder, am I an outlier?

A few weeks ago, I saw my primary care physician at the VA. I asked him why he thinks that Veterans have such polarized experiences, even at the same facilities. He told me a story about a Veteran who had a treatable, but life-threatening issue. The Veteran was referred to a specialty clinic, but that clinic never called him to set up an appointment – that clinic messed up.

Four months came and went. Instead of calling VA, his primary care physician, nurses or even that clinic to get an appointment, he wrote his congressman. That congressional letter took two more months to route its way back to VA. Six months from the start, that Veteran was finally seen by the specialty clinic.

That’s when I realized why I have a better experience than others. The VA is not the military; you can’t wait around until you are told to do something. You must advocate for yourself.

You and I at some point will fall through the cracks. No matter how great an organization is (and I think the VA is pretty great), it will happen. That is reality, but it doesn’t have to negatively affect your experience.

But it’s so much more than being proactive, it’s using all of your available resources.

This is what I do to have a great experience with VA.

Schedule your appointments first thing in the morning or right after lunch. You will be seen on time.

I remember when I was a kid, the doctor would come in for five minutes and leave. Once, I was so afraid of a needle the doctor spent 15 minutes with me, and he was visibly annoyed. Annoyed because he spent more than five minutes with a single patient. (The calamity!)

VA docs are not bound by quotas to see as many patients as possible despite the need. They focus on quality visits. (My last annual checkup was an hour) They tend to run over their scheduled times, often sacrificing their lunch breaks.

Scheduling an appointment first thing in the morning or right away after lunch is one of my tricks to always be seen on time. It also makes it easy for you to be early and on time.

Have a referral to a specialty clinic? Call that clinic yourself to schedule an appointment.

If you wait around for the clinic to call you, it may be a few weeks. Sometimes  VA will automatically schedule you. (I hate that too.) So don’t let it happen in the first place. Ask your physician or nurse for the phone number or location of that clinic and call or go there, tell them you have a referral and set a time that works for you.

Ask for an appointment tomorrow

VA reports on a metric that claims majority of Veterans receive their appointments within 14 days of the desired date. I’ve always been curious to that number because no one ever asks me when I want to come in, rather tell me when I can come in. So, I decided to start asking for an appointment tomorrow, and it almost always works! I routinely will have an appointment within two weeks.

Use My HealtheVet secure messenger to talk to your physician

Have a question? Ask. Need a new appointment? Ask. Need to check your appointment schedule? Need to refill a medication? You can literally solve your own problems in a few clicks. This is a game changer if you aren’t already using it. Every facility has a My HealtheVet coordinator and most staff can help you if you run in to any technical problems.

Choose a different VAvascheduling

You have the right to go to any VA facility you want to. Yes, it may be more inconvenient, but you have that right. I have a friend who plans a trip home every few months and schedules his appointments all in one day at his hometown VA because he likes it so much.

Walk in to the emergency room if you need anything

If you can’t wait, use the VA medical center ER. At the least, they will put in a referral and you can walk to the hospital to be seen. If you have a referral, you can usually talk to the clinic front desk and offer to wait around until a spot opens. I’m not advocating to use this needlessly, but if your condition is getting worse or you feel you need to be seen sooner than your appointment, use the VAMC ER. Please, please, please don’t wait around for VA to contact you if you have an urgent need.

Use the kiosks

Don’t wait around to check in for your appointment. Use the kiosk and avoid the lines. Every time I’m at VA there is a line at the front desk and a few kiosks open. The kiosk will even tell you if you are in the right area or not.

Prepare and double check

If you are like me, you see your doctor once or twice a year. When I go, I bring a laundry list of issues I want addressed. As you go down your list with your doc, cross them out or write down the clinic he/she is referring you to. Verify at the end of the visit that the physician entered your referrals, mistakes can happen and you want to make sure you catch them before you leave.

Have a problem? Speak up.

Every facility has quarterly town hall meetings that you can attend to speak with the leadership. They hold these meetings because they want to hear your feedback. You can also speak with a patient advocate about anything.

The best and quickest way to get a response or a solution is contacting your primary healthcare team via My HealtheVet secure messaging or calling their office.

Do you have a tip? Post it in the comments so we can share.

Author

Tim Hudak

  joined the VA digital engagement team in December 2013. Tim, a Chicago-land native enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of high school. As an intelligence analyst he deployed to Al Anbar province, Iraq with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 in 2006 and 2008. After the Marine Corps, Tim used the GI Bill to earn a degree in Intelligence Studies from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and co-founded the university’s first student Veteran organization. Tim is active in many Veteran organizations and enjoys wrestling his German shepherd, Capone (who wins more often than you would think).

Comments

  1. KATHY BAUMGARTEN    

    I totally agree with this!
    I think it’s male vets who have such a hard time advocating for their own healthcare.
    On TV, for example, I saw a grey-haired vet picketing VA – he’s a 100% and active-duty retiree – wait times are ridiculous- he’s going to die waiting… Really? You’re a military retiree and have TRICARE and yet you are waiting around for the VA (or not calling to follow up)???
    The VA is there to serve YOU! Do what you have to do to get some service and use the chain of command doing it—for want of a better phrase!

    Another hint – always have a pad of paper and pen ready when you are talking with healthcare providers (of any kind). Before you hang up, ask for their name and their phone number and repeat those back to them. Then say, “Okay, so my appointment will be on —date—?” This is just a layer of accountability. When they don’t call back, or write, call them and say, “I spoke to (XYZ) on (date) and they told me….”

    More accountability.

    By the way, you EARNED VA benefits through your good service and have paid for it with your blood sweat and tears AND YOUR TAX DOLLARS!

    Thanks for the great story.

    1. Tim Hudak    

      Thanks for the hint Kathy! That’s a great one.

      1. ken rigan    

        Try doing that with a Veterans choice person and they tell you you can’t call them back and you never get the same person back and never know what city or state you will get on phone. From central Illinois area and had our first town hall meeting which was great.Our Mattoon Illinois clinic has not had a Doctor for over a year with a great new hire PA handling the load but the load is taking a toll on her health.We have not had two doctors for over two years and it is rough getting appointments and the Danville hospital has lost many specialist doctors which forces many to veterans choice program which really takes time for an approved appointment. Rural American Vets really suffer for healthcare

        1. Walt Chamberlain    

          Las Vegas says that Veteran’s Choice doesn’t exist or they tell me to call the number that says contact my local clinic..

    2. Selena    

      I think that it is easier for the VA to treat men. As a female combat Veteran, I find it difficult for doctors and psychologist to treat me.I feel as is they do not understand me. If you’re relatively healthy you’re going to get good care. I had a kidney problem that the VA and the military refused to fix. I was finally able to get the surgery that I needed when I started working at a state job and got health insurance.

      1. Jaquan Miller    

        That’s odd; every single vet doc I have seen has been a female. If females don’t know about other females then I give up.

    3. William Titus Asbury    

      But when it takes you 6 months after leaving phone messages and waiting on hold for 4 hours to no avail. You get kind of frustrated because when you do FINALLY get to talk to a human. You’re told to go to the ER. because they can’t handle that problem there. When the VA ER is 85 miles away and you don’t qualify for the Veterans Choice because you have a CBOC in your town, and you have to go to a local Pharmacy to get a flu shot ($25) and take the paper work they mailed you to the CBOC. AND when you can not establish a doctor patient relationship, because the turn over in personnel is so great you never get to see the same doctor twice. It gets somewhat perturbing. I have seen better medical care at my dogs Vet. Now after going to my congressman on my chronic problem form the Congestive Heart Failure brought on by Agent Orange while I was in I Corps area in Vietnam and we now have the Gangrene that had started to develop. Things are beginning to look up.

      1. Tim Hudak    

        William, Have you spoken to your hospital’s patient advocate? They can really solve all of those problems as it sounds like you need to be connected to the right referrals. I hope things continue to look up. Also, you can go to any Walgreens to get your flu shot for free. http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/23289/no-cost-flu-shot-options-for-veterans/

    4. Richard    

      Wonderful suggestions, indeed you have to advocate for yourself. After my last VA visit about 8 years ago, I visited our new outpatient clinic–nothing but kudos for my care team.

    5. Peter Magargee    

      Tim your tips work very well in the Tricare world which has changed dramatically since ACA kicked in full blast. Wait time for family dr are now a week to ten days, before two days max. Specialists went from ten to 30 days, plus procedures went from a few weeks to 6 weeks to 2 months. I’m just about to go into Medicare which may change even more. I am rated at 80+ and I may consider using the VA, have a clinic near me and the VA hospital downtown. My brother uses the same set up, he gets excellent care with only waits on a dermatologist.

    6. Tom bou    

      This story is complete bull crap. You wait 6 months to see your primary and the the day before its cancelled. Mental health is worse. I could go on forever on complaints but I don’t have time. The Dallas VA has gone downhill and with the progress I made with PTSD is gone now!!! Mental health is having doctors quit or waiting to hit one. So your story is a joke.!!!

      1. don rogers    

        Absolutely a joke. He no doubt suffers from PTSD and is trying to bring peace into all areas of his life. Can’t blame him for that. Or he is just blind to the over all truth of the VA. They are weeding. Getting as many disgruntled vets out as they can, while keeping all the happy Twinkies happy. Push us away, pass a bill that requires our VA contact once a year, not publicize it, and then we are banned. Relieves them of several million troops that need their help. I am sure pig farmers have a name for similar tactics. A few MILLION vets are dying of Agent Orange exposure, and are not being treated correctly because they were not in a narrow area of AO exposure acceptability. Because of a pissing contest between the US and viet Nam, we are perishing. Thousands of other vets are dying from lack of proper mental health care. They have no beds available, no qualified drs, few good nurses, horrible administrative staff, far too many volunteer people working in areas they should not be allowed to read about, and too many bonus programs. They spent 40 years giving out meds like candy, and now find themselves with no real doctors to actually treat the problems. What we paid for this service can not be counted in dollars. They owe us. Period.

    7. WestEndAl    

      Based on my experience, the medical service that the VA provides is, at its worst, very good, but, more typically, is excellent.

      According to stories that I’ve heard and read, perhaps my view is not universally shared.

      I am very much in charge of my medical treatment. I make my own appointments – although sometimes a clinic will call me to set up a date before I’ve had the chance. If I have more than one clinic visit to make, I try to schedule them all on the same day.

      I also read the clinical notes on MyHealtheVet following all encounters. There’s an annoying lag, plus some items (X-rays, for example) are not available electronically (although the radiologist’s report is), but this allows me to be sure that the practitioner correctly addressed my concerns, that I understood any instructions I was given, and it sometimes leads to follow-up questions I might have. (If you need copies of things like X-rays, the medical records office will provide them; just ask.)

      There’s a great advantage to having pretty much everything under one roof – I visit a clinic in a major city. All practitioners can see lab results, for example, which has saved me from undergoing repetitive or duplicative tests, some of which might have required an extra visit. Moreover, the VA seems to encourage the practice of having lab work done before seeing a practitioner so that the results are at hand during the actual appointment. Many “outside” doctors charge for a separate office visit if you want to have the lab work done in advance, so you, and they, only see the test results after your visit. Dumb.

      Because the practitioners are not paid on a piece-work basis, I have confidence that any tests of follow-ups that are suggested are in my best interest, not the best interest of the practitioner.

      I suspect that some of my fellow vets have a more casual attitude toward the VA’s medical services. I note that there’s a spot on the “past appointments” records to indicate whether an appointment was kept or not. Practitioners have told me the “no shows” are not all that rare. I guess when you’re not paying much out of pocket and there’s no penalty for your own negligence, you may be unable to assess the value.

      I think the VA, at least the medical side, and at least the folks at my clinic, gets a bum rap. What’s most unfortunate is that some of the folks who take such great care of me won’t tell “outsiders” where they work because of VA’s sour reputation. These people should be proud of the great work they do, not embarrassed!

    8. don viel    

      lIKE IN THE ARMY, THE FIRST SARGENT DOESN’T GO AROUND ASKING EVERYONE HOW THEY FEEL AT ROLE CALL, BUT WE ALL KNEW WE HAD THE RIGHT TO SEE THE DOCTOR. IN OTHER WORDS IT WAS UP TO EACH SOLDIER TO TAKE CARE OF HIMSELF. THE SAME WITH THE VA. YES THEY ARE THERE FOR YOU BUT FOLLOWUP AND SERVICES IS UP TO YOU TO ASSURE FOR YOURSELF.

    9. Leon Suchorski    

      I totally agree. One day I called at 8:30AM to make an appointment. They asked me if 11AM would be a good time, and I agreed that it would. So he commented “So, I will see you in a couple of hours.”. Since I move slowly, I barely had time to do the 3S bit, and get to my appointment. Same day, not shabby.

    10. Dick Runion    

      Outstanding article. I have also taken charge of my health care with the VA. I use the My healthevet frequently for messaging my primary Dr if I have a question regarding meds or health questions. I order all my prescriptions online and have them shipped to me. (give yourself about 10 days to receive). I am very pleased with the service and care I receive from the VA

    11. Michael Durkin    

      I just wrote a reply and sent it and CANNOT READ reply thanks for yet another USELESS VA attempt to make us think they CARE !

    12. Demetra Wells    

      I find it interesting that the comments suggest you “call” your primary care provider or specialty clinic. Obviously your VA does not work like mine. We cannot “call” our primary care provider. That ended about a year and a half ago. Now, all phone calls go to a central clearing house location. You tell them what you want and they send a message to the appropriate clinic. Then you wait for a call back. In the past, I have given up on that and gone directly to the clinic. They looked at me like I was crazy.
      After my annual exam last fall, I had some questions about some of the test results. I contacted my PCP through My Healthevet to try to get information. I never got a response so I tried the calling routine again. The nurse called me after three days. I told her what I wanted. I got no answers but she did mail me a copy of the test results that I had already printed from My Healthevet.

      In the past, I have used the patient advocate when I had problems trying to get prescriptions renewed (again, no one would respond when I requested renewals). Now I just use Medicare and Tricare For Life and I have a whole lot less stress in my life.

    13. Lawrence Goodwin    

      I agree these measures can help you be the best patient you can be, which is an obligation we all have to ourselves.
      However, VA patients who live at distance from facilities still have huge obstacles to overcome, and I don’t see “Veteran’s Choice” helping much.
      VA administration also takes many bureaucratic measures to slow things down, with an eye toward limiting delivered care.
      There are about 5,000 medical positions remaining open at VA, and this has been a near constant figure for many years.
      VA administrators often qualify for their salary “performance” bonuses by saving already funded moneys, which is an incentive that works for administrators, not for Veterans.
      I see federal “entitlement” programs which practically recruit beneficiaries, yet enrolling & getting care at VA can be quite difficult & very discouraging.
      There is a lot of good to the VA, and some wonderfully helpful people. Imagine the stress those naturally helpful employees feel. There are victims of VA’s ineptness & bureaucratic malaise on both sides.
      “Secretary Bob” has apparently only fallen in with the bureaucrats.

    14. Liz Sampson    

      Can’t agree with the author. My husband trusted the system to work as designed. It didn’t and failed on so many levels, it resulted in his death. My current partner has had all kinds of problems despite trying some of the things mentioned in the article (the reality–some of the suggestions aren’t allowed at all centers, the VAMC system is not uniform).

      I was reluctant to give the guy a chance once I learned he was a veteran. I feared I’d find myself fighting the same battles a second time. I was right. It’s taken an act of Congress to get VA to respond to his needs. Be very careful, especially if you have or suspect you have a serious condition. Though most of the doctors are great, administrators aren’t. A number of them can and some do, influence and interfere in the delivery of veteran care. And don’t count on HealtheVet either. A big problem we’ve found is that it’s often inaccurate and behind on entries. You have to assume full responsibility for your care and be prepared to advocate for yourself whenever necessary. I hear a lot of positive stories. I’m glad others are having good experiences. But for decades before his death, my husband said the same. And it’s only in the last couple of years that my partner’s had trouble. The landscape can change once you have multiple or serious health issues as you continue to age. Be vigilant.

  2. Paul Cafuk    

    I’ve had positive experiences with the VA for the most part. I use the secure messaging on the My Healthy Vet website. I don’t think I’ve waited longer than 2 or 3 hours to get a response from my primary physician and less than that for messages to my Social Worker.

    People always report the negative experiences they have. It’s human nature. While I’ve gotten the run around on some of my health issues, I still wouldn’t say that the VA healthcare system is broken. Human error and the lack of being proactive about my care are things that can be fixed. Kudos to all the VA healthcare providers for being patient with us Vet’s when we get a little bent out of shape!

    1. david heimbach    

      i have all good exp with the va hosp
      i have some good things to say about my out patient place
      it takes awhile to get in to c your primary doc
      hospital gets me in right away

  3. Michael Stephens    

    I’ve been treated like a star by the VA. Couldnt be more satisfied.

  4. Bob Phillips    

    I too, agree with this post. I’m over 70 and the VA has been my primary medical provider for almost a decade. As I’m just beyond the 40 mile distance from my primary VA hospital, I have the ability to seek emergency treatment at local facilities, if need be, which has happened twice during the past 5 years – both trips by ambulance, to the most local ER. On both occasions, 100% of my bills were covered, less a small deductible. I also have a much closer – 10 miles – clinic, for my occasional blood draws, and that’s where I have my annual primary doctor visit, and my flu shot. In ALL my appointments I have never had to wait more than 45 minutes, to see the doctor. I am VERY happy to be covered by the VA, and highly recommend it to my fellow veterans.

    1. Tim Hudak    

      Thanks for sharing Michael and Bob!

      1. Ronald J. Monty    

        I was also over 40 miles from my VA facility. I was taken by ambulance to the local hospital at 1 AM Monday morning. The hospital said I had to get pre approval from the VA before they would cover it. I am 71 years old and the VA is my primary care. The VA refused to cover any of the cost seeing I had Medicare so I ended up having to pay over $600 in all the different co-pays. I never had a choice at all according to the VA.

        1. Jersey Jeanne Goldy-Sanitate, MS-OD    

          You can put in arequest for reimbursement under unauthorized claims. You have a year to do this. Is you are 100% it must be reimbursed to you. Go to va.gov site type in fact sheet 20-02 and follow the directions. The form used to submit the claim has been VHA 10-583. I am not sure if that has changed but the fact sheet is from 2015 so check that first..ADVOCATE for your self and be PROACTIVE..

  5. Denis Mirez    

    I’m a 58 year old Vietnam combat vet with a 50% service connected disability for diabetes related to Agent Orange exposure. I’m a Latino and have been to VA care centers in several states. My experience is that the level of care you receive depends very much on the VA location you go to and the staff there. I’m originally from NYC and the Manhattan VA there that serves vets from several surounding states and cannot possibly attend all the vets properly. Plus it has a lot of foreign doctor and nurse residents that have substandard training and respect for US vets. I went there for emergency triage, was told to go home because nothing was wrong with me, then collapsed into a two week diabetic coma from their incompetence and unconcern. In fact, my family told me when they came looking for me the following day, I was found naked on a table in an empty storeroom without any identification or treatment, left to die by the VA staff until my family, which includes lawyers and a NYS Supreme Court Judge, made it clear a huge lawsuit would be pending if I was not treated properly. However, in other locations where there are fewer vets to take care of, particularly Las Vegas, where I have finally retired to, the care is excellent, generous, respectful and even goes far beyond medical care to housing and vocational rehabilitation assistance. Plus the staff has far fewer foreigners which do have a very different attitude toward vets since many of them served, or have family members that served in the military. If your VA clinic is not treating you the way you should be treated, try going to another one that is less crowded and better staffed. It may be longer travel, but definitely worth your health.

    1. Tim Hudak    

      I’m glad things have worked out for you Denis! Many Veterans don’t realize they may have entirely different experiences at different VA locations and it is their right to choose where they receive their care.

  6. Patrick jahnke    

    U know it took u 6 months before any action was taken!!!!! I had a great doctor 2 yrs. Before he retired , it went to the bottom of the sea heath care wise, PA for 3 month after , green doctor. Don’t know s#!t. VA system I got a new doctor I’m still on guard, with her so it one thing at a time pain clinic refused Tooo cccc me look in record they noone can help me with burn nerve damage on ankle, after va gave meds resparked. The burn area 8 yrs ago, try many. Thing to control pain nothing other than narcotic drug, va big brother try give me many from of antidepressants, drugs, due to my head injury I get nasty. Side effects, 1 pill did it I what 1 pill for pain not 6-8 pills that stop ur breathing, heart, sleep all day, more depress, more headaches, and many more bad side effects, then more pills to fight those off, never ending. Cycle useless meds to make a veteran a zombie cant enjoy life… !!????

    1. Tim Hudak    

      Patrick, try asking your doctor about a referral to a pain management program. More information at: http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/22718/treating-pain-without-opioids-veterans-improve-quality-life/

      1. Paul Cafuk    

        I tried asking my provider for a referral to a pain management specialist several times for chronic lower back pain. All I get is physical therapy referrals when it’s not a muscle issue. I’ve had 2 microdiscectomy’s and an injection in my lower back to try and ease the pain. I finally had to ask my civilian Dr for the referral.

      2. L. Rick Tanguis    

        Tim did you read the veteran response in the comment section of the article? Most comments were not consistent with the article’s theme and there is a reason for that.

  7. Dennis J Ruff    

    Man you sound like me and I love my VA in Dublin, GA. I do the same things you do, I have rattled some cages but I am never demanding but always treat all of them with respect. Once in a while I might meet one of their folks that seem to be having a bad day but I delight in braking them down which I do with love and kindness, we all can have a bad day. Always treat them like you would like to be treated.
    I am 77 yrs old and life has taught me how to get things done without demanding.
    I started using MyVet immediately and use their security email system any time I need an answer. I am a MDS Cancer patient and have been giving up by VA but after three years this month I have kept the faith and continue to enjoy life each day even though I have been given death sentence or six months to live three or four times. Last week VA allowed me to pickup an Electric wheelchair which has totally changed my life. VA has given me weekly help for my caregiver, my wife, a weekly nurse visit to my home and so many other items to make my life easier. Yes, you do have to ask for help but you will find out they are always there for you, just ask, they will gladly help.
    Yes, VA is awesome to me. I get so upset when I hear some of the stories about VA.
    Hopefully someone will read this and will help them.

    1. Tim Hudak    

      Thanks for sharing Dennis. I hope other Veterans read your comment as well.

  8. Mary Anderson-Kokell    

    I am not only a veteran, I am also the caregiver of a veteran. As a female veteran, I get better attention than my husband. Unfortunately, my husbands experience as been horrible. Equipment that did not work, step down ICU dirty, inattentive to patient care, run around to get approvals for services. I’ve been to the patient advocate several times, got responses that were basically lies, called case workers who don’t call you back. I called the director’s office to be told you can not speak to her. There is no accountability. Changes are necessary. It seems that personal cell phones, texting and Facebook have taken over responsible care.

    1. Tim Hudak    

      I’m sorry to hear about that Mary. What facility does your husband receive care at?

    2. Larry Hartsock    

      I find this article borders on or the same piles out in my neighbors pasture… Why is there a ‘veterans choice’ program? In my experience scents it’s inception and availability to me it has a tremendous failure. I am 48 mountainous miles from the nearest va clinic, 78 miles to the nearest ‘partial service’ va hospital and 130 miles to a full services va hospital (this round-trip equates to 7 to 8.5 hours)… With an 70% PTSD rating and this 7-8.5 hr mostly in SF Bay Area does not bowed well toward a happy marriage (I’m on #5 now) do to my illness… I have chronic back disorders and recently dislocated my shoulder, VA could give a flying f€@k less…
      This trip down the “yellow brick road” with VA for near 10 years… Don’t blow smoke up my proverbial skirt about how great VA… I don’t have to write my Congresman/Senator to get a civilian Dr. to see me…

  9. John Brunner    

    About a month ago, I walked into V.A. Fort Worth. Out of Insulin and sick. The V.A. nurse told me they would mail my insulin. Never even took my blood pressure. This article jests. That’s not my first time. I advocate for care. I have seen the patient advocate many times. I even went to Administration in Fort Worth. Greeted by grunts! I’m 100% Vietnam combat vet. My wife is a disabled Vet with some of the same problems. This article is a great propaganda hit. Good luck…

    I have many other stories. V.A. needs to gets its act together. Just read the crap going on all over the country. I have 2 disabled combat brothers. Literally. Same crap in 2 other states. One V.A. doctor would not see a retired vet with a guide dog.

    1. Tim Hudak    

      This article is based on my personal experience with VA at several different facilities across the country. I’m sorry to hear your experience has not been as great as mine. The best advice I can give you since you seem to go through all the right avenues is to not give up and try a different facility. Have you attended a quarterly town hall meeting to give your feedback? At those meetings the leadership and staff will often personally attend to any Veterans specific issues.

    2. julie maille    

      the article is about being proactive to receive needed care. you didn’t reorder your insulin or didn’t reorder it so that you received it on time. you waited until you were out of insulin and did a walk in. when the nurse told you the insulin would be mailed, you should have reminded him/her that you were out of insulin and had to have it that day. this “bad experience” was on you…not the VA.

      1. Rebecca H.    

        Exactly, my fil did this over and over…….wouldn’t refill his meds and then complain about it being the VA’s fault.

    3. Jerry Lee Tennant    

      I’m a 69 yo ex- medic VN Vet. IMHO this article is like reading commercial reviews for stores or products on line. It’s east to tell which reviews are phony. I can almost smell the smoke you’re trying to blow. Yes, I’m calling BS!
      I’m no doubt doing this for nothing if the usual happens i.e. The lil code at the end will not let me post. I was in Louisville KY when I first started with the VA “medical services”. It was 50 – 50 chance of getting good care there but was the best of the three places I’ve been.
      I went from LVL to the Washington DC VA. I’ve NEVER had a worse experience with any organization as it was there. They knew I had prostrate cancer in Nov 2009 but took the “wait and see” approach. That is wait and see if I would die first. They knew I had a high probably of AO exposure but waited until my PSA was 11.8 before they did a biopsy three months later. A 4+
      Is time to test normally. Four months later they started the hormone treatments. I had a great PCP at the CBOC who pushed for them to do something earlier but was reprimanded for her efforts. The cancer was 3-3 with a Gleeson score of 8 when the biopsy was finally done. The only treatment option, I was told, was 45 Rad sessions and two years of hormones.
      I’m now in the Salem Virginia area. It’s nearly as bad here. I’ve been passing blood and clots in my urine since June 2014! I’m on my second Urologist who is as useless as the last one. I’ve seen him every 6 months for two less than THREE minute visits. He doesn’t answer any questions or want to hear anything I try to tell him.
      I went to my wife’s Doctor locally. Three weeks ago he did a test that showed atypical neoplasms in my urineand told me to see a urologist asap. With only two weeks and five phone calls I got an appt 3 weeks away which now has been moved another two weeks away.
      I had my yearly physical in Jan. no urinalysis done this year except for drug test. In my records are several lies and errors. I have no kidney problems, no hematuria and no depression. After my health vet note they did correct my pain number from 4 to 7 as I had stated. This PCP has never examined me except for listening to my chest but my record says my abdomen was palpated and is normal. I have a rescinded testicle, never examined, and the PCP told me that she didn’t know anything about testicles and refused examination.
      I could go on and on but I’m sure there will be more about how great the VA is doing caring for vets. As I said I have doubts if this will post.

  10. Rich Carney    

    Great article and since I retired in 2005 the VA has taken care of me but mainly because of me pushing to get this and that done. There’s no choice but to be an advocate for your own health. It’s amazing that we even have the VA health care system and you can’t beat the price! Most military retirees also have Tricare as well, but the VA (with my positive experience) is 100% better than Tricare! Thanks for the positive (finally) write up!

  11. Victoria Foley    

    Choosing thorough and compassionate care from a VA medical center should not be a crapshoot. Disabled veterans likely are not physically or financially capable of roaming from one facility to another in an effort to treat their illnesses or injuries, especially when these disabilities are life threatening.

    A better question is WHY is this climate allowed to exist ad nauseum in the first place?

    1. Donald Herman    

      I agree about the travel scam. I have been in the VA system since 1987 (100% rated). Since the only income I have is my disability, I cannot go all over for care on my own dime, and what with the VA refusing to pay cash anymore, you have to wait a week or two to get your mileage deposited in your bank account. Then there is a trick they do not tell you – they will only pay you mileage to the nearest VA facility that can treat your problem, so “choice” is going to cost you money. My local VAMC is Chillicothe, OH (47 miles) and I have a small outpatient clinic that is 25 miles away (Wilmington, OH) which is where my primary care is located. If I am unsatisfied with the care in Chillicothe (and they almost killed me once through neglect), the next nearest VAMCs are either Cincinnati, Dayton or Columbus, OH. All are over 75 miles away, yet the VA will only pay mileage for Chillicothe, and even then only for scheduled appointments. If you have to go to the walk-in aid clinic in Chillicothe (no emergency room), the hours of the acute aid clinic are restricted and the VA only pays your mileage one way, not both, even if they then admit you to the hospital. Trying to use veteran’s choice is also very complicated. In my area they claim there are no providers closer than the VAMC in Chillicothe for physical therapy and other routine things. I have a county hospital with a physical therapy clinic literally across my back yard from my home, and they DO accept government compensation as they took my wife and she has Tricare For Life and Medicare. However, veteran’s choice says they are not in the “VA system”. The old left hand of the government not talking to the right hand. So I will likely have to drive a two hour round trip, three days per week, for therapy for a condition which the VAMC Dr admitted only surgery can alleviate. But he cannot refer me to surgery even though the heel spurs which are poking my Achilles tendons are very visible and large on the X-Ray, as the “rules” state that physical therapy must fail first. So, two months to get a podiatry appointment, now I have to wait to see where I will have to have 6 weeks of physical therapy which the Dr knows will do no good, and then I will have to be reevaluated and then referred to an orthopedic surgeon in God alone knows which hospital as they don’t do surgery in Chillicothe anymore (they did when I first settled in this area). The last time I had to have surgery, I was sent to Huntington VAMC in Huntington West Virginia, literally 200 miles round trip. And no, you cannot do your pre-op in your local VAMC, you can only do it in the hospital where the surgery will be performed. So a drive to the far away hospital for the initial consult, then back for the pre-op, then back for the surgery, then back a few more times for post-op. The worst thing is, if you are not awake and alert the VA system will kill you as they almost killed me. In a hospital bed, they tried to give me medicine (penicillin) to which I am deathly allergic – it will kill me – the first three shift of nurses on my first day in the hospital bed. That was medicine ordered for the patient before me in that bed. I had to demand they tell me exactly what medicine I was receiving, who ordered it and why, or else I would have been dead and it would have been glossed over, yet my charts and records are plainly marked as allergic to penicillin. Then they brought in a Dr from Nigeria from Ohio State University to cover the wards on weekends as they didn’t have enough of their own doctors to work the wards on weekends. He ordered a medication for me, without my informed consent, which was not on the list of approved drugs for my condition. I was experimented upon without my consent. I had a bad reaction to this medicine as it was incompatible with another medication I was taking by I.V.; GREAT WORK! Then a nurse, when changing IV bags, left the full bag to drip onto the floor and HOOKED A DRY I.V. LINE UP TO MY VEINS! I caught it before I got an air embolism. So be alert and awake in any VAMC, and FORCE them to tell you everything they are giving you and doing to you , who ordered it and why, and write it down. Otherwise you’ll wind up with a small headstone in a national cemetery and the VA will cover it over.

  12. Nan Jimenez    

    We were told by our VA Clinic that we MUST stay in our district for medical care. Well, we do NOT have a hospital. Now the VA has contracted with a hospital (3 hrs away) and we must commute there even though there is a larger VA Hospital in a larger city only 2 hours away. We have gone to local ER’s when needed and were treated so badly and left without care for up to 10 hours. It was horrible how my Vet was treated!! In the future I told our VA Dr that we will go to the larger VA Hospital she again said NO, you must stay in our district and they will not treat you until I give them your information. Also I have found they VA wants to only treat what you hurt in the military service time, they will treat you if you do not have insurance, but charge more for meds! We have been waiting over 18 months to see an Ortho Dr as my vet has 2 new knees. The one Dr in my area came to hospital and told us he would not do anything because he was going on vacation. I finially got a private Dr (2 hrs away) to pull him out and by the time we arrived his kidneys shut down because infection was so bad. We were told he surely would have died within hours if he had not gotten there when we did. Please do not tell me we have a great VA Medical system for our Veterans. As far as us scheduling appts, it is done for you and I do not know what planet you are from but asking for an appt the next day is insane. I have talked to our congressman and he doesn’t deal much with the VA but said he is working on getting a contract, we were told that was going to happen 3 years ago, we are still waiting. I hope Donal trump get elected and keeps his promises for all Veterans. This is not right on so many levels!

  13. Heather Wiser    

    Hi Everyone,

    This is absolutely true. I went ten years after being discharged from the Marine Corps not knowing I could even use Hines,VA hospital for my healthcare. I had no idea how this system worked. Tim is also a very nice person. He helped me post my grandfather in Veteran of the Day on facebook back in December. I think Vets need more advocates and not customer service reps to tell them “no”.

    1. Tim Hudak    

      Hey Heather! Good to hear from you! I’ve used Hines before and had a great experience. When I got out of the Marines, I had no idea about VA either. I was in school and sat next to another Veteran student who happened to also work at the VA (driving the mobile Vet center).

  14. Joseph Mclaughlin    

    Agree with most of this but I believe the VA focuses on physicals and routine medicine more than caring for service connected injuries. 30 years I fought them and finally got Obama Care to find I walked on a broken hip all 30 years. Yes I bought my own hip. Still to get follow up or therapy for the recovery I must first get another physical. We decided to move in our retirement so I will now be able to use a different VA center in a State more Vet friendly. I plead even begged to get a hip replacement but could never see a doctor only the nurse. I used my Congressman 3 times yet still only the nurse. Some centers are great others just collect a paycheck.

    I do not want to be known only as a disgruntled vet as I have only asked for help with my service connected injuries. Over the years I have met so many others here in my area with the same. A Korean War Vet well decorated and high ranking with a 50 year old bullet that rotted his guts. He was too proud to complain and almost died. PTSD with way too many pain pills almost committed suicide as no one would arrange help for concealing with him and 25 others locally, they had to drive 45 miles for coumseling.

    New center, new policies and still for too many it is about the paycheck not the care and dignity of our heroes. There are many that would volunteer to get vets what they need but rules forbid it. Others collecting a paycheck to drop vets off with no help or support at regional centers for the day. I believe I speak for most vets when I say, “We do not want hand outs, just care for our wounds.” I do not mind waiting for an appointment, but for broken bones a nurse is not the one to be making desicions while the doctor is doing magic tricks I n the lobby. I pray a chanel in heart occurs with all these new buildings but I fear it is just more Vet money going into the pockets of people the do not give care and dignity a priority.

  15. Jeff Mentzer    

    This works if you VA system is working for you not against you….. I’m all for praise when it’s due. But some of the systems in VA are so against you there is nothing you can do to “Hack” the system. My average timeframe for specialty care appointments 1 year 2 months. And this only works if you primary care provider (PCP) is working for you not against you. I’m not the doctor it’s not my responsibility to sort out what my ailments are with hours of research to tell my PCP these are the referrals I need. But yet when your PCP only sees you once a year so you can run through a 3 page list of ailments that occurred since the last time you saw him. It’s an uphill battle. Personally I had a bone tumor seen on a MRI diagnosis from the VA with one picture “Benign” forget about it. I had to fight 2 years ago to get serial xrays put in to my record to see if it changes since that’s the only way to monitor to be sure with this type of tumor. 2 years out and how many xrays have been done = 0. Side effects from medications notify my PCP through healthvet and figure hey maybe we’ll get somewhere now since the meds weren’t doing anything anyway. Nope answer from the PCP “Those conditions are not routine side effects so you are wrong” not hey lets try something else. Stop taking those meds no more side effects but his input in the system is to keep prescribing me meds that I can’t even take. So you say use the facility you want you can go anywhere. Not true. I had a request in to change my primary care. Okay you are now on a 4 year wait list to change PCP. I have a hardship and can’t drive 60 miles to get to my appointments. Sorry even though you have a clinic 20 miles from you. We’ll just hide paperwork and not be able to provide you any status when you call to see where your request is. Call patient advocacy to complain that there are problems. After 5 mins get yelled at over the phone “That’s just how the VA works!!!!” no reqenst fulfilled no return contact to let you know status. Even my VSO has filed with the Patient advocates guess what still nothing. I’ve even had state legislature jump in on my case. Federal response = none. Sorry while I agree with a lot of you article like calling to schedule appointments directly with the clinic and checking back to see if they can get you in earlier. I’ve had some good responses and cut appointments by months to be seen. But when the system is truly broken and the local providers falsify information – yes I have proof but no one will listen. What do you do then? Hell I even put in a request to get medication tracking on mail order prescriptions. This was implemented in about 8 months after my request. Then I find out some director got a 10k dollar bonus for implementing it. And guess what it still doesn’t even update in MyHealthVet until after your medications arrive at their destination and those that require a signature the ones that really matter. Are not even tracked. I’m all for improving the system and fixing the broken parts but that doesn’t work if no one will listen.

  16. Christopher Mateo    

    The VA care you get pretty much depends on your ATTITUDE.

    1. Jerry Lee Tennant    

      Really Chris? In my experience it’s many of the VA staff that has attitude problems. I’ve been in two groups at my CBOC and every vet I’ve talked to says the VA is the problem. We have the right to have a voice in our care but no one is there who will listen.
      I keep copies of my records on a off line hard drive to prevent deletions and changes of the lies in them. Have you read your doctors write ups in health vet? More that half of what is in my records never happened or is a guess answer they put in, you know like when you have a disability claim exam.

  17. Arthur Varanelli    

    My observations after 20 odd years of dealing with the VA is the wide variability in care and attitude between medical facilities, outpatient clinics, and the like. I have some less than desirable experiences as well as very good ones, and shopping around the VA by reputation is the only was to succeed, in my view. I believe that they arrived at this fragmented condition by having people here and there who really give a damn and care and those people who look upon Veterans as a paycheck commodity. The words from the top are what let the zombies loose in the system, as well as a cheap attitude and parts of the system that look upon you as being “qualified or unqualified” which may secretly deny you medical attention you actually need. I have experienced that situation, and if it were not for my speaking up, I could very well be dead. With anything, being careful and observant and questioning are the watchwords. I do not mean to disparage the good the VAS does, and the good experiences of others, but the world is real, and uniformity is always hard to find, except when the government wants your money!

  18. jane smith    

    This is a really good article.. I have been dealing with the VA since 1999, to this very day. For a very close relative as well as for caring for a quadriplegic Vet who lived with me and my children,for 12 years earlier. This article should be posted in the lobbies of every VA. We need this pro-active outline for caregivers and Vets trying to work with the VA system.Years ago, I became discouraged with the VA system. Then I started using the phone and connecting with the VA resources and people working in that system. The Vets I was caring for became more involved in voicing their needs and wants as we progressed with more teamwork and less negativity. The VA has great benefits and services. Pro-active teanwork is really important for the Vet to successfully get the care they deserve. Caregivers and Vets, you can do it.

  19. Josh Aldrich    

    It’s too bad my primary care doctor at the VA has a wait time of approximately 30-45 days. When I try to utilize other VA facilities in this area they too have at least a 30 day wait. Why is it that these all have this long of a wait time just to see a doctor for something as simple as sinusitis? I can call a civilian doctor and be seen the same day?

    Myhealthyvet works well for prescription refills. It also works well for secure messaging my doctor.

    Walking into the emergency room in the John Cochran VA is a complete disappointment. I have tried twice and the first time I waited 4 hours and left, the second time I waited 6 hours, with no others in the waiting room and finally left. Why is this? The doctors and nurses are not busy and there was no one else in the waiting room?

    The kiosks are great. I like not having to deal with anyone in the VA. You can also file your compensation for mileage on this kiosk. Which is better than waiting in line for hours to file this needless paperwork with one person working a line of about 30 veterans.

    Veterans Choice program was utilized for a +30 days wait and this is how veterans choice works:
    call veterans choice and they take about 1.5 weeks to approve your request
    the veteran must hand walk a referal slip through their pcp that is alloted approximately 2 weeks to complete.
    Now the veterans choice program takes 3.5 weeks to get an appointment.
    What a great improvement for a 30 day wait.

    1. Mike R    

      Yep, know what you mean, took 2 months AFTER my paperwork had been uploaded to Healthnet for them to make me an appt. I called them every 10 business days and each time they said it was “in work” finally even talked to a supervisor, who promised me she would call me back but never did. Finally NON VA care called me and they contacted Healthnet and then a week later did I finally get an appt.

  20. Jade    

    Obviously you’ve never been treated by any doctors at The VA Medical Center in Atlanta Georgia or Little Rock/North Little Arkansas.

  21. Terry W Hembree    

    I think it is because you are young because I have been around a long time you have luck with you because I was at a VA to have my heart checked out and was there for two days. Went home had to go to the hospital two days later had to restart my heart 3 times, could not get the heart beat above a 13 per min. Was there for 5 days went home and 4 mouths and had not heard from the VA called them and they said did not have to let you know what they found that was for their use only.

  22. Mike Agrippe    

    Why should veterans have to have tips on how to work the system? The system should be working for the vets. This is ridiculous. Let’s change the VA, not find ways around it.

  23. Brian Brooks    

    I have been at the VA for years. I have had some issues, but as you said with a system so large things will happen. Don’t leave everything up the VA medical staff. Think for yourself and question anything you don’t agree with or understand. They will explain it to you. Just complaining all the time does not do you or the VA justice. A majority of the VA staff really care about your health. So do what they recommend, following there instruction correctly. I personally think the VA is great. They make every effort to take care of your needs. Again, it does not mean that mistakes cant be made. Pay attention and ask questions. If you cant take responsibility for your own care that is your mistake. Remember the VA is free or either very low cost, so don’t complain about stupid things. Only things that really matter and go through the VA’s patient advocate first. We should help make the VA as good as possible. Yelling does not do that.

  24. David Morten Amundsen    

    Well I thought the VA hospital service was great. I agree and used your suggestions. However I have had awfull service of late.. I have had real severe back problems since injuries on duty> I have been through many many x rays over the years and the diagnosis was arthritis. ” We don’t do anything for arthritis”. It just got worse and worse over the years until 2003. I could no longer walk, and pain pills did nothing. Finally the primary got me a consult with neurosurgery. I had surgery within three weeks on my Lumbar spine. Miracles do happen and I could walk with very little pain. On followup, I asked about the other spine pains. The doctor in a word put me off. Two years later I happened to be in a specialists office, one of thode really great doctors. He told me I looked like heck. I told him of my neck problems and if he was curious there was a year old MRI in the computer. He looked it up and said “my GOD when is the surgery? Don’t fall!”. To shorten the story he and the physiatry boss made it possible to see Neuro in Durham. They promptly said it was beyond their scope. They sent me to Duke. Where they did surgery on my Thoracic Spine I am now waiting for surgery on my neck, and Lumbar. But I have to get better first. I need aquatic surgery. There is a place 10 miles from home. The next nearest is over 150 miles away. Vet Choice took 4 months to pass it back to FEE Paid. The place was not in the healthnet net. So here I am not getting better because of How absolutely terrible healthnet is. When it works they get you an appointment. WITHOUT ASKING YOU IF YOU ARE AVAILABLE? What happened to common sense.

  25. Mike R    

    Not everyone has the same experience. It took me over 18 months to get to Pain management and then only because I WAS my own advocate and complained all the time.
    However, Secure messages is not that good of a system, in my case it’s read by the nurse and if she is busy will forget to talk to the doctor about it, calling in does not help much either as 90% of the time I leave messages and they do not return calls. Went to the patient advocate and she said she would get right on this but I needed to give her some time, after 5 weeks I contacted her to find out how things were going, only to be told she had totally forgotten about me and had done nothing.

  26. Daniel Young    

    Tim, I agree completely with you assessment of the VA. I have gotten nothing but prompt, efficient response anytime that I sought treatment. I am an 82 year old vet who, like others my age, have learned that friendly and courteous, but persistent requests are almost always met with prompt actions by the VA. I worry about those vets who are not getting what they need from the VA, and I am sure that some VA facilities are worse than others, but my experiences have all been good and, in most cases, as good as I have received from private care providers.

    I’m a Navy guy, but Semper Fi, Tim. Keep up the good work for our fellow vets.

  27. Alan Margolies    

    Thank you. You provided some excellent information.
    I have a question. I waited 3 years for my present benefits. It’s been a year since I’ve heard anything about my appeal. I haven’t received a letter on my case yet but I can see that it’ is in progress on E Benefts, Is there anything I can do toI speed up the process? If there is a way to expedite I would appreciate your input. I would prefer not waiting for another three years.
    Thanks
    Alan

    1. Megan Moloney    

      Alan, we just recently published a series of articles on the claims appeals process. The final article is here and you can pull up the links to the first four articles from that story. It may provide more information about that process for you.

  28. Charlotte Freifeld    

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had nothing but excellent care at my VA over the past 15 years. Perhaps the VA should let patients know they have a patient advocate office if they need help.

  29. Terry Sisson    

    Tim, this is a great article. It’s full of great tips to help vets get the care they need and deserve. I have used many of these “hacks” myself and they do indeed work. I am fortunate, for like you my experience with VA Health Care has been great. Not that everything always goes well or as I would like. It is important to point out as you did that s**t happens, but if you approach the staff calmly and state clearly the problem they will make every effort to correct any errors. It too is necessary to keep in mind that VA employees work under rules and constraints that may not allow them to accomodate your wishes or desires. You therefore need to be a little flexible.

  30. Robert Haythe    

    I have never had any problem getting an appointment at my VAMC or at the satellite clinics. I have been, until a new Chief of Staff was appointed, treated better than the President. BTW, that Chief of Staff is currently under investigation for wrongdoing of some kind (I haven’t heard what she did) and possible misappropriation of funds. She did reduce some of the pulmonoligist 3rd shift doctors at the ER which apparently caused distress to some vets but as I said, she currently is in trouble for her poor performance.
    When she is replace with a _competent_ chief, the 10 star (of 5 stars possibility) medical service will return to us.
    Even now, with the incompetent chief in charge, VA medical care is thousands of times better than anything available in the private sector.
    As the author said,”VA docs are not bound by quotas to see as many patients as possible despite the need”, which is at the core of the excellent treatment at VAMC. My wife, on the other hand, is stuck with civilian medical care and her doctor is ruled by the bean-counting accountants at the clinic, that was once his but now has been “assimilated” by a local hospital conglomerate, is __required__ to see an average of 5 patients per hour or be “disciplined” (which according to him amounts to being fired — from his own dam clinic).
    Accountants and lawyers will be the end of our country, but that’s a rant for another day.
    Like another poster said, I’m a Navy guy but Semper Fi, Tim. Keep up the good work for our brother and sister vets.
    The VA Medical Centers RULE!

  31. Joseph Stuart    

    I am a Vietnam Vet and have been in and out of the VA medical system since 1975. I have see the VA at it’s worst, usually
    because of budget restraints and I have been back to the Va for 10 years and have nothing but praise for all aspects of VA care. That includes the New Choice program that has given me more local care when needed. I have to agree with Tim, at the beginning of this site. Thanks to all the VA workers for a job well done.

  32. edward r mcconnaughy    

    I have been going to the Baltimore VA for about 9yrs.now never a problem been treated great I love it

  33. Earl White    

    Excellent information, VA Hospital in west phila., receives a 10 on 1 o 10 from m care and my Primary Care Physician for 9

    years is Outstanding and Very Professional …..

    Shot out for #1 care physician ( Dr. Verderame), Phila. Va Hospital gets a bad reputation I totally REFUTE, the Entire

    Staff is and has been Amazing!!!!!

  34. Terra Maynard    

    I am super grateful for the care I get from the VA. I am a female veteran and have no conplaints about being treated differently because of that. I agree 100% that you have to be your own advocate and make things happen- make the system work for you. Given the number of people there are to be treated the VA and the human beings who work for them do the best they can. Of course there are mistakes and errors and bad judgement calls and jaded providers. What people forget though is that any health care system has those things. Everyone dogs on the VA as if outside insurance and healthcare providers work flawlessly in comparison- totally inaccurate. I’ve had
    issues here and there and when I do I make the effort to get them corrected. In the end I feel I am treated better than I would be by other healthcare systems and continue to count my blessings for having this benefit for the rest of my life.

  35. larry O. Utter    

    Here is an Idea which might work, Since the VA sees all Vets, lets do this, any Vet who is not disabled is given a card for civilian doctor, if he needs meds or a special doctor, he will be referred to the VA for med and the doctor for his concern, only Vets who are disabled by VA will stay with the VA unless the elect to use a civilian doctor, but can still get there meds., this may not be the best way to solve a problem but it might help.

    1. Fred    

      VA does not see all vets. There is a means testing in place that blocks most Vets.

  36. phillip g. melinie    

    I agree with the positive comments. One problem I found is there are times when people in the pact teams become lax on their performance. I was informed by a doctor that they are not able to evaluate their staff. I find this to be unacceptable .At one clinic I spoke to the head of the clinic about the patient advocate having a bad attitude. His answer was he had just took over this clinic and was aware of this matter. He assured me that he would address the matter .But she has been with the va so long their was not much more he could do. Let me say I spoke to many vets who felt the same. So once your are employed by our government you are grand fathered in.

  37. Phillip Davies    

    Until you talk to veterans from each VA facility I don’t think you can make these judgments Open till four years ago I was under the care of the San Francisco VA I had nothing but perfect care there no complaints whatsoever for over 30 years but 3 1/2 years ago I moved to Sacramento California and went to their VA and I have had nothing but trouble there especially in the ER The patient I have a get was of no help my daughter also had problems at the hospital I also had to get touch with my congressman to get any kind of resolution to this problem and for me personally it’s been more than one problem it’s been one after the other so until you talk to a veteran from every facility how do you make your judgments that everything is perfect I have to admit when I first came to Sacramento VA Gabe see my doctor for the very first time and was waiting in the waiting room and hearing veterans complain and want to know who they can talk to and how they can resolve all their problems and I said to myself I wonder what their problem is I’ve always had good care at the VA will let me tell you after being there for a few months I found out what the problem was very quickly it was that facility

  38. Lonnie Evans    

    I sure wish I could use some of these “hacks”, but first I need to get into the VA. Yesterday marked the 500th day that the VA has been processing my Fully Developed Claim… and its only on step 3 (Gathering of Evidence) of the 8 step approval process. There must be a lot of people out there getting the FDC decisions in a week to offset my wait time in order for the VA to maintain their stated average of 117 days.

  39. Henry Ewing    

    Bull Sh** The Patient Advocates are worthless.

  40. Francisco Cruz    

    I retired in 1997 after 30 years of service, I heard a lot of negative comments about the VA Health System, As of today all I can said is that VA Hospital that i’m attending, base on the number of patients that hey see, is operated better that the civilian hospitals that I had use. I get my annuals check ups on time and I get the medication thru the mail on time. So I will continue to see the doctors and nurses at the VA Hospital so they can continue taking care of my medical needs.

  41. Owen Fox    

    I too, agree with this post. I’m over 70 and the VA has been my primary medical provider for almost 30 years.. As I’m beyond the 40 mile distance from my primary VA hospital, I have the ability to seek emergency treatment at local facilities, if need be, which has happened several times during the past 5 years – 4 trips by ambulance, to the most local ER. On all occasions, 100% of my bills were covered, less a small deductible. I have a clinic,within 40 miles for my primary care and for my occasional blood draws, and that’s where I have my primary doctor visit, and my flu shot.Money could not buy a better primary Doctor than “DR. DY.”and his staff. Thought “My Healthy Vet” web sit he is always available.In ALL my appointments I have never had to wait more than 45 minutes, to see the doctor. I am VERY happy to be covered by the VA, and highly recommend it to my fellow veterans..

  42. Ray    

    Nan Jimenez, what stupidity make you believe Donald Trump will make a difference as far as VA health care doesn’t show me in any way a concern for those in uniform. he spends more time counting his money than caring about you. YOu need to stop playing your stupid political games and learn the truth. The republicans just voted agaginst giving 20 billion to the va for better health care. Wake up!

  43. Owen Fox    

    I too, agree with this post. I’m over 70 and the VA has been my primary medical provider for almost 30 years.. As I’m beyond the 40 mile distance from my primary VA hospital, I have the ability to seek emergency treatment at local facilities, if need be, which has happened several times during the past 5 years – 4 trips by ambulance, to the most local ER. On all occasions, 100% of my bills were covered, less a small deductible. I have a clinic,within 40 miles for my primary care and for my occasional blood draws, and that’s where I have my primary doctor visit, and my flu shot.Money could not buy a better primary Doctor than “DR. DY.”and his staff. Through “My Healthy Vet” web sit he is always available.In ALL my appointments I have never had to wait more than 45 minutes, to see the doctor. I am VERY happy to be covered by the VA, and highly recommend it to my fellow veterans..

  44. Phillip Davies    

    I don’t know how you can make these judgments cells like you’re blaming the veterans for the problems that are being caused by the VA been under the care of the VA since Vietnam in San Francisco California never once did I have a problem a complaint everything was great but three to half years ago I moved to sacrament I was asked to come in for an interview for I have post medic stress after the interview I was told they had a very good program there that could help me with my problems two weeks later I received a call the Basilica he told me I was too unstable and they could not help me and it went on from there I was waiting to see my primary doctor for the very first time there were several veterans in the waiting room and they were very upset about their care wanting to know who they could talk to who they can make their complaints to and I couldn’t understand this because I’ve never heard this before like I said I’ve always had good care but I will tell you after being there for a couple of months I found out what the problems were very quickly so until you talk to veterans from different facilities I don’t think you can make judgments I don’t believe it’s the veteran it’s where they’re getting their care it was the people that are not taking care of them there for me the biggest problem is been in the Berks zero and idling me but my daughter had a big problem that with the same doctor so I think you need to go to other facilities talk to other veterans and get their point of view before you make judgments to say that these places are so good

  45. Norman Robert Clark    

    I will be 85 years old in July. I was drafted in 1955 out of Graduate school and injured in Basic Training losing 30%
    of my hearing. That claim took 34 years to get approved. I found out by using the “Freedom of Information Act”
    that the Selective Service doctor had put the following statement into my file:

    [redacted]

    I have never had any history before, during or after my military service of any kind of mental illness.
    The VA has used this statement for over 62 years to influence the medical decisions made by “some”
    very good VA doctors. I have now survived a skull based cancer called a Chordoma WITHOUT the
    any help form the VA. The typical survival rate is 5 to 7 years. I have lived 15 to 16 years. The longer
    that I can live the more meaningful it becomes for giving HOPE to the very young who also have
    one of these tumors. All the VA is doing now is waiting for me to pass on. What kind of country is it
    that can smear an individual starting before military service and lasting 62 years and then:” Thank you
    for your service?”

    Editor’s note: Personal health information redacted per VA’s social media policy.

  46. Phillip Davies    

    I neglected to say I went to the patient navigator several times but no prevail I called and tried to make appointment with the director of the hospital with no results I contacted my congressperson and at that point I started getting some results but this better is still not resolved So I don’t think you can blame the veterans blame the VA

  47. Roberto Gonzalez    

    I have been attending the v.a. since 1978 and I have never been treated bad.
    I have nothing but praises especially for the primary doc. and my cycologis both are great doctors.

  48. Mahlon Isacar Martin    

    I am an 83 year old Retired Air Force CMsgt. I retired from the Air Force on 31 Dec 1976 with 27 years continuous Air Force service. 100% of my medical care has been through the VA since I retired 40 years ago. I have a 60% service connected disability rating. I have been hospitalized and had surgery more than once in 2 different VA hospitals. I have a lot of VA medical appointments at both hospitals and clinics and have never had a problem. I too, am one of the Vets who are totally satisfied with their VA care. I use the My Healthy Vet Website all the time for most of my needs not covered during my 6 months regularly scheduled appointments. I am not one of those hi-tech experts, just a grade school graduate son of a sharecropper.

  49. David E. Cisek    

    Location, location, location. Had a heart stent put in at LaJolla, CA and had great care. Later, saw a lady physician in Reno and again had great care. Northern California clinic was OK but still three months to see a doctor. Had to be treated at private hospital emergency twice and VA never reimbursed my costs after Medicare. Moved to Bullhead City, AZ, a VA-approved doctor ten miles away in Nevada put me on a six month waiting list for an appointment. Outpatient clinic in Kingman, 41 miles away, not much better. Nearest VA hospital is in Phoenix – 200 miles – now under Federal investigation. Next closest is Prescott – 250 miles out. Just waited 2 months for outpatient clinic in Kingman, got there and was told the clinic was closed for “education”. No notice to me of cancelled appointment. Next available date six weeks later. Was referred to a local “pain management clinic” four months ago. Patient mill. Twenty six patients in waiting room, two hour wait. Two more visits and still haven’t had to take my shirt off or had a stethoscope touch my chest. Other vets have shared the same view – some VA facilities are great, outlying facilities dicey. The RNs and PAs have been great when I could see them. The Doctors, not so much, too busy. The VA should send patient evaluation cards to each veteran and see what kind of answers they get back. I’m not disgruntled, I’m disappointed.

  50. Renee O    

    Very good article, Tim! My husband is 100% service connected (I am his primary caregiver), and has been using the VA HCS for over 29 years. We have had almost no complaints in that time period, and he’s utilized Seattle, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and San Diego VAMCs for care. To the poster that stated that the VA doesn’t care about service-connected injuries…my husband is a quadriplegic, so almost all of his care is focused on his service-connected disability. I feel that VA practitioners do a great, if not better job of insuring that his care is tailored to the special needs associated with SCI. That being said, we also don’t sit around waiting for the VA to do everything for us. My husband advocates for his own care, and I will also advocate for him when necessary. This means making phone calls, using secure messaging, and generally following up on referrals and orders. He maintains a positive rapport with all of his providers; we have found that we get more accomplished with positive interactions rather than negative. We all need to be advocates for our own care, no matter if it is VA care or not.

  51. Rob Gould    

    I would like the VA to start using it’s website scheduling. I find myself wading through Health Net, often ending up where I started, just to make a routine appt.

  52. Kathleen    

    I am a female veteran and I have had an excellent experience with the VA. They make a special effort to meet the special needs of women. Overall, woman or not, I do not have any complaints. Yes, i had one provide would not take me seriously, but when I requested a new provider and explained why, I was immediately assigned somebody new. Every year, I see the VA improve in one way or the other. I do use Myhealthevet and I do use the kiosks; it makes a difference. So, I agree with the entire article. Don’t sit around and wait or complain and be frustrated. You need to ask and request and be heard.

  53. Vita Lopez    

    I would love to share this on Facebook and Twitter but I there aren’t any share buttons. Is it possible to put one on your blog? This information is so useful and other people would love to know about it.

    1. Megan Moloney    

      Vita, thanks for wanting to share! We did post this on our Facebook page yesterday if you’d like to share it from there: https://www.facebook.com/VeteransAffairs/posts/10153566864673178

      We have some system restrictions with social shares and our networks, but will keep trying to get those added!

  54. db    

    Your hacks do not work at the Seattle VA system at all, you get the run around and have to wait over 2-3 months to get into a specialty clinic or even wait over 2-3 wks to see a Primary care provider. The system is to refer you to an outside provider or specialty clinic when they can not see you in a month and they do not do it.
    I do not like the VA system at all, it needs a complete overhaul and a lot of people need to get fired from their jobs.

  55. Michell Antoinette Oliver    

    These are great tips and they worked for me while I was receiving my care at Audey Murphy in San Antonio Texas and at Heartland VA Medical Center in Columbia Missouri. But, here at home at the Louis Stokes VA in Cleveland Ohio, none of those things work. They have layers and layers of red tape when it comes to access to care. They have put a policy in place for the administrative staff that does the scheduling that they cannot schedule you for a primary care appointment if the doctor did not say so in your last visit notes. They have to either get permission from an administrative supervisor or contact the doctor before they will schedule an appointment. For specialty clinic care, if they can’t get you scheduled within 30 days of receipt of your consult, they make you return to your primary care and to get a new one. This is the result of a policy that they have to schedule you within the 30 days or they get in trouble. But most of the time they don’t have any specialty clinic appointments (depending on which clinic) for 60 days. I me and my husband are both veterans and I am 100 % service connected. I also worked in the Louis Stokes VA as a nurse. So I know this system from both sides and it is not good. Several of the patient care advocates know me very well and I have to involve them too much to get timley health care for me and my husband. Ee are relocating to Orlando and I pray that the access to care doesn’t have some of the same added red tape that holds up hinders access to care.

  56. MIKE KIKAS    

    66 YEARS OLD NOW.STARTED VA IN 07.HAVE HAD DECENT CARE AND NO MAJOR PROBLEMS.YOU DO NEED TO SPEAK UP IF THERE IS ONE. NO ONE DR. IS PERFECT OR THE STAFF. MY CLINIC IS GREAT. CAMDENTON MO.

  57. Hugh F Conlon IV    

    While I am more than certain the author of this life hacks thinks that these “Pro Tips” can actually change the veteran experience at any given VA. I disagree, and here’s why…
    1] To make contact with anyone who has access to make or change an appointment must be possible. The VA hospital I use is the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, GA. When calling the published numbers and only numbers available to veterans (because a list of four digit extensions are no longer available or searchable). So you are defaulted into a dropped call, closed loop computerized call menu. A choice to speak to an operator is available after the second loop, and currently an “every other” connection is the standard. THE FIX…a working and reliable phone contact system/process. That is veteran-facing not veteran-resistant.
    2] MyHealthyVet has a “Secure Message” component that is available for veterans who have made the requisite VA form requests for approval. This was/is not only a time saver for veterans with access but is a perfect choice for non-urgent and routine requests and messages. The PROBLEM: the email may not be viewable to the provider or viewed clinic support staff. The “Secure Message” is not a reliable form of contact and not recognized as a form of “VA to Patient” or the reverse. THE FIX: Recognize this as an authorized and official method to contact an MD, clinic or clinic support for any non-urgent information request or contact. This is a more secure connection than any other available to non-VA patients using any other healthcare system. (DoD excluded).
    3] Please explain in more depth the option to choose another VA facility. I have heard of this mythical choice but have never been able to get an answer from PCM, clinical support or patient advocate. I have been told I could use the Army Medical Center at the local military base, but never using any other VA facility. Thanks in advance for your response.

  58. Dyana Wade    

    Thank you for your post Tim! I too have had excellent service provided by my VA in Honolulu and now in Southern California. I agree, bad news/experiences travel fast, but it is also helpful to balance the “norm” by making news of the good news/experiences as well.

  59. Michell Antoinette Oliver    

    These are great tips and they worked for me while I was receiving my care at Audey Murphy in San Antonio Texas and at Heartland VA Medical Center in Columbia Missouri. But, here at home at the Louis Stokes VA in Cleveland Ohio, none of those things work. They have layers and layers of red tape when it comes to access to care. They have put a policy in place for the administrative staff that does the scheduling that they cannot schedule you for a primary care appointment if the doctor did not say so in your last visit notes. They have to either get permission from an administrative supervisor or contact the doctor before they will schedule an appointment. For specialty clinic care, if they can’t get you scheduled within 30 days of receipt of your consult, they make you return to your primary care to get a new one. This is the result of a policy that they have to schedule you within the 30 days or they get in trouble. But most of the time they don’t have any specialty clinic appointments (depending on which clinic) for 60 days. Me and my husband are both veterans and I am 100 % service connected. I also worked in the Louis Stokes VA as a nurse, so I know this system from both sides and it is not good. Several of the patient care advocates know me very well and my concern is that I have to involve them too much to get timley health care for me and my husband. As far as using the choice program, we were told that we don’t have that option since there is a CBOC here in Akron within seven miles of our home. Our primary care doctor is at the main hospital in Cleveland and the issue of timely access to care is a problem in the whole VISN. We are relocating to Orlando Florida permanently next month and I pray that the Orlando VA Medical Center doesn’t have the same red tape issues that hinders timely access to care. If so, the patient care advocates will know me by name. I don’t mind them knowing me but, not in this way.

  60. JG    

    The VA is not the military” concept that this article is premised on is exactly the problem with the VA customer service and care issues. VHA was created and purposed exclusively for the care of VETS who have been specially TRAINED to be military member, embedded with the mindset to follow orders yet instead of seeking to understand that audience and craft the delivery of care around it you write demeaning pieces like this. Organizations that produce excellence in service delivery and customer service build their efforts around the profile of the customer instead of barking tips at the customer to get better service from the broken system. This is VA PR blame shift to the Vet hit piece. All that jargon could have simply been left out and you should have just offered the tips for getting better care. Your skills would be much better used writing a tip sheet to the VHA on how to better serve the Veteran giving the type of training and mentality that has been embedded in them. “Human-Centered Design”. Very narrowsighted to assume all other clinics and providers are producing the same experience as yours when we clearly know that is not the case and you work for the VA.

  61. Tereza Becica    

    I have a two-page list of phone problems since instituting the “new and improved” phone system for the GLAZA area (Los Angeles VA).

    Also, if a doctor is not on time or the clinic is double-booked for appointments, scheduling first thing or right after lunch doesn’t guarantee being seen on time. In this system (LA VA), many clinics are understaffed and waits are over three months for an appointment.

    Using MY Health Vet is a joke—just today I went to renew medications, and it told me I had none!!! After several attempts, it finally pulled up my medication record. I usually have trouble logging in to that site (I try to use it for myself and my WWII Veteran father.

  62. Gary Pepper    

    I’ve used various facilities since 1988. Having moved quite a bit, I’ve had the chance to experience most levels of quality VA care. The best I’ve received was at the VA clinic in Redding CA. The VA Hospital in North Little Rock should be shut down and the manager prosecuted. Four years ago I needed insulin and had just moved to the area, and had to use the ER. After an eight hour wait, I was seen by a “resident”, who wrote the prescription for the insulin. I went to get the scrip filled and had to beg for needles and syringes, since they didn’t dispense those after 7PM. There was no lab work done either. I used the CBOC in Mountain Home AR, and didn’t find out until I moved to Albuquerque that I had compromised kidneys, COPD, and that my Nurse Practitioner had labeled me “non-compliant”. Once in Albuquerque, I was able to get an appointment and was assigned a PCP within 72 hours of arrival. The care in Albuquerque is fairly good, but the docs are spread thin, and specialty clinics are a little difficult to access. My doctor, Dr Link, is fantastic, thorough, and deals with issues that come up very quickly and he knows what the heck he’s doing, so specialty clinics are rarely necessary for me. The kidney thing was due to being on ibuprofen for years, and Dr Link told me not to take it anymore. Now my kidneys are fine.

  63. Frank Richardson    

    I loved reading your article and I agree with you that my the VA Medical Center is there for each veteran. It is every individual veteran’s responsibility to keep up with his/her own medical needs. If you find yourself blaming someone else, it’s time to look at what “you’ve” done to ensure everything goes well. Try comparing the VA to any other non-VA medical facility and You’ll be glad you have the VA. CELEBRATE.

  64. Rod McCaskill    

    Thanks Tim!
    I love my VA center here in the San Fernando Valley, CA. People are always friendly and professional. I just don’t understand all the negativity I hear on the news. Your article is much appreciated.

    Rod McCaskill
    Canoga Park, CA
    Former Air Force/Vietnam Vet

  65. Michael Shatto    

    March 16 at 2230 I used My HealthVet to tell my doctor that my knees and hips hurt, and that I wanted them looked at.
    March 17 I was told to drop by Radiology to get X-Rays.

    The Martinez, California VA Clinic is superb, as good as Kaiser.

    And my secret is that I learned how to use the system to get served when I was a Kaiser member and I use that knowledge with the VA. I’ve been doing what the author said in the essay.

  66. Duane Michael Gonyon    

    Good article! Frank R. is wrong. The VA is NOT there for each veteran; as I served 8 years active duty Vietnam Era and denied benefits because I have a City Pension over $15,000. Oh, but I have Medicare………
    Former SSGT. Duane M. Gonyon U.S.A.F.

    1. Al McNichol    

      Until just recently, I too was new to Medicare. I originally thought I wanted a Medicare Advantage plan. Within a month I realized I should have chosen a Medigap plan instead. Before changing my mind, I realized that the main questions I needed to answer were:
      1. How much did I spend on healthcare last year?
      2. How much will I (guess) spend on healthcare this year?
      3. How much will I (guess) spend on healthcare next year?

      There are provisions to go back on your decisions. However, one has to make sure not to get stuck in a high-cost situation. I can send you a CMS/Government document which is chock-full of information about Medicare choices.

  67. Michael T Newell    

    Typed for 20 minutes and the “Captcha Code failed & deleted my entry. FogQ

  68. Kathy    

    I agree with the article. Both my husband and I are veterans and use the VA in Salem, Virginia. We have excellent care, the doctors, nurses, and staff have always been great. Our Primary Care Doctor at the Lynchburg CBOC and her nurse are great and if something is wrong can usually see her on same day or next day when I call. I do use the email to communicate with our doctors. My husband has several health issues and is 100% service connected so it is good to have a hospital and doctors that we like.

    Also, a good tip is to find and get to know a Social Worker within at the VA hospital. My husband has a Social Worker as part of the Spinal Cord Injury clinic he goes to and she is awesome. Any problems and she takes care of it. We don’t have problems with appointments and doctors, but dealing with the VA bureaucracy can be a nightmare. My husband sees one civilian doctor quarterly on a fee basis from the VA. We have encountered problems with them not paying the bill or denying payment. I call or email the Social Worker and she has it taken care of within an hour most times. She is amazing. Any issue that comes up that I can’t get taken care of, I contact her. It is great to have a Social Worker to cut through red tape. Even had a Social Worker get my husband admitted to the hospital even after the doctor in ER refused to admit him. He spent 4 days in the hospital. Turned out he had 3 broken ribs and other injuries that didn’t show on the xray. He has MS and had fallen across the tub. He could barely walk and it would have been impossible for me to care for him at home. Other than that our care has been great.

  69. brian kelley    

    My local clinic is far superior than the hospital. In regards to calling a speciality clinic, I get either the referral hasn’t come in or we will call you. If I call back in a week or two I getthecops called on me for harassment. Overall, I ‘ve I can see a provider, there is no issue. The issue is the waitstaff, they are rude, don’t like those job and don’t appear to want to be there.

    Case in point, I arrived for a optometrist appointment 45 minutes early and stood at the wait here sign. The check in staff looked at me and ignored me. Finally at two minutes before my appointment, I went up to the check in and checked in. The staff said I was wondering why you were standing there. I just a joke my head.

    This was before the kiosks. On the note, most of the time they don’t actually check people in.

    1. Jersey Jeanne Goldy-Sanitate, MS-OD    

      Use MyHealtheVet to document that the speciality clinic hasn’t contacted you for an appointment. They are required to get you an appointment within 30 days under the new VHA standards. If they cannot, they are required to send you out on veterans choice to a private provider. If you document that through My HealthevVet it helps the BEAN counter in Admin see how these new standards are not being followed. Be cordial in your documentation, you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. AGAIN, be PROACTIVE and ADVOCATE for your self.

  70. Sandy    

    I’ve always liked my va experience until I started having more female issues. As an aging female veteran who goes to an all male care facility(meaning that’s primarily all you see), I feel that they don’t understand female health issues, or that’s how I see it. VS needs to do better.

  71. David Hendrickson    

    “VA docs are not bound by quotas to see as many patients as possible despite the need. They focus on quality visits. (My last annual checkup was an hour) They tend to run over their scheduled times, often sacrificing their lunch breaks.”

    Quality? It is obvious you havent been to some other VAMC’s. My annual was exactly 7 minutes. Just long enough for the PCP to use a 3 week old lab report to justify increasing meds and then reordered everything else.
    As a diabetic I should be seen more often, but right not it is once maybe twice a year.
    Foot exams, Pfft, havent had one in almost 3 years now…

    The PCP docs dont have time to “go over” as they are swamped. 2 PCP’s currently working with a 3rd coming onboard soon.
    Odd there used to be 5 PCP’s then just 2.

    Called for an appointment, 14 days yeah right. So far they have run 92 days, 62 days, 71 days and the most recent was over 90 days.

    Walk in to the ER? It had better be serious otherwise the doc here will mark your file as a abuse of services.
    I went in with a concussion, 2 broke ribs (stomped by a steer) and in an empty ER I had to wait 4 hours for them to tell me to wait 3-4 days and see your PCP….

    Not every VAMC is like yours, most suck.

  72. Patricia K Correia    

    I have been using the VA since 1990, and in that time I have seen a lot of changes. There were few women Veterans and no womens programs at most VA facilities. I agree with what you say about taking charge of your own care. I had to do it from the beginning. I started with a decent doctor at our Medical Center, which was 110 miles from where I lived. Back then we didn’t have any CBOCs. The MC still had inpatient care, a surgery unit, an inpatient & outpatient psychaiatric facility, nursing home and emergency room. It was a small but quite efficient VA Medical Center. Now with CBOCs in many of the communities it serves, most of these services are gone, and have been delegated to other sources. There is no ER, no inpatient care, the pharmacy is still doing business, and the primary care clinics.. They are still in charge of all the CBOCs in the District. I didn’t have any complaints about the care I was getting from the VA until someone decided around 2011 that all women Veterans must have a female doctor. From the time I started with the VA I had one doctor for 6 years, & that one transferred to a newly opened CBOC 70 miles further away. I was told I could continue with the same provider but at that time the mileage allowance was about 17 cents per mile. A new CBOC had been open about 6 months where I lived so I transferred there and kept the same primary care doctor for 15 years. There has been an issue keeping consistent Mental Health care. It is either necessary to travel, or to see a provider via telehealth, or to see a PhD counselor who barely speaks English. Since I lost my long term provider I’ve had trouble getting proper treatment for many things. I have Chronic Kidney Disease, service connected, and whenever I sought treatment for anything from a cold to a minor injury, the doctor’s response always was “see the kidney doctor”. I finally changed doctors but this one’s command of the English language is questionable. She’ll tell me one thing and write down or order another, forgets what conditions I have or don’t have, takes me off medication I have taken for years that works because she thinks it’s no good, even when I have another specialist prescribe it again. Continuously tris to send me to a kidney doctor at a different facility when I have been seeing a kidney doctor regularly at one facility because she forgot I have kidney disease. As far as Veteran Choice it took them 6 months and 3 people on 3 separate phone calls to schedule a routine mammogram that Fee Basis had been doing regularly annually with a message from my nurse. And then Veterans Choice only paid $13 and told the radiology clinic I had to pay the rest. Fee Basis always covered this as part of women’s health. The system was working better back before someone tried to fix it.

  73. Greg Roeder    

    Great article thank you for your time in writing this. I was denied VA care for over 17 years because my medical records were missing… They finally were located and I have been receiving OUTSTANDING care at the Mt Vernon MO clinic which is part of Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks Fayetteville, AR hospital. I have a designated calendar in a storage type clipboard and I keep ALL documentation including taking notes while I’m on the phone with my team or other providers. The VA can only help a vet if they are willing to help themselves. I can piss and moan about all the years I was denied care and get on a soap box but it doesn’t do any good for me or anyone else. Drive on!

  74. Liz Phillips    

    When the VA services are good, they’re actually GREAT. When they are less than mediocre, they are in need of change. It would be great to have a group in every state advocate for our Veterans with regards to quality care and help them get through the ropes. Sometimes just hold their hand and walk them through what’s required of them. Easy to say, take charge and be forthright. Many Veterans are not use to that tactic. Their military careers might have involved following orders and waiting to be called. Most older Veterans are that way. We don’t know what they went though while serving our country. They may be slow and incoherent. Many don’t have family support or help in understanding internet. We should be more sensitive to their needs. This is a very good article with great advice. Perhaps it can go further in some way and actually reach other Vets who feel no one cares about their contributions to our country. Really good article sir.

  75. Mike C.    

    Tim,
    I had the same attitude as your editorial describes at first. I try hard to be an optimist. I work at making every experience I have a shared positive experience. (You knew it was coming didn’t you? Well here it is.) If I told you what I have experienced with the majority my interactions with the VA Medical Teams you would not believe me or if you did you would be the first to believe me. Without exaggeration here are a few.
    1. I had a primary doctor try to put me on METHADONE because I told her I didn’t like pain pills. (I fear addition)
    2. I had an entire department tell me there wasn’t anything wrong with my knees. I argued with the doctors for over a year. I switched doctors and found out I had NO cartilage in either knee and need surgery. Then another doctor put me on a prescription anti-inflammatory medication and I walk normal now with no surgery and without pain medication. (some pain but manageable)
    3. I went to the Patient Advocate and was told, “The staff know what they are doing and I should pay attention to what they say and follow their instructions”.
    4. On my first visit with my first primary care physician I was told, as I was sitting down, that she was Jewish but talks with God and I should become a Christian. She wouldn’t let me talk and told me I was an alcoholic after I told her I was using alcohol to kill pain. That is in my record and I have to explain to each new doctor, and they come and go in the VA System a lot, that I don’t drink at all normally. After sharing the story with a close friend she went with me. She couldn’t believe it when she witnessed the way this doctor was acting.

    I moved to Florida. My Team here is much better but I still have to stay on top of them and then they screw up but not nearly as bad as they did in the St. Louis MO area.

    For the last three months I have been working with medical Teams from the Private Sector for cancer. The difference is unbelievable. Professionals, caring, thorough, trained, NOT A SINGLE MISTAKE.

    I think your pinion is nice and I hope you have continuing success and happiness with the VA Medical Team that treats you. Personally I don’t believe you and think you must be on some medication that has distorted your mind but I could be wrong. There are some good people that work at the VA Medical Centers but from what I have witnessed it is not the Veterans who need instruction. The VA Medical Centers are suppose to be guiding us NOT us guiding them. I have NO say so concerning their policies, procedures… and to complain,,, well good luck.

    These are just a few issues. If you would like more get back to me and I can give you a lot more. In fact, here is one for my departing. I went to a VA Med Center with the complaint that I had blood in my urine. The doctor, you are not going to believe this, told me, “I have to rough sex”. Sometime later I went to a private doctor who said, “You have Bladder Cancer”.

    Please don’t try to paint a picture with Mary Poppins floating around singing cheerful songs when we have VETS dying because they can’t see a doctor. Please don’t lecture VETS because you think that WE need to act different. More than four times in the last year I have had to fight with doctors to get them to refill my meds and they continue to get it screwed up.

    If I seem a little distraught with your directions/editorial on how us VETS should better ourselves with the VA’s system it is because I am distraught with your article. Good for you but DON’T lecture the rest of us on how we should act. Trying going to the John Cochren Hospital in St, Louis, MO and talk with some of those Vets and then write your article. Try talking to some of the families of Vets who didn’t get treatment soon enough only to have to live with health issues for the rest of their lives.

    Good luck Tim and thank you for serving your country.

  76. Mike C.    

    Ops, one more item. Now that we can comment on FaceBook about our experiences I am posting my thoughts. In addition, I have recently learned that the VA has a Rewards Program and we can turn in the names of people who do exceptional. I will be using that program also.

    To all my Brothers and Sisters at Arms, I wish you all well and thank you for serving.

  77. Mark Evans    

    All good tips but should you have to “hack” the VA to get the care you earned?

  78. Donald Fried    

    How do I get to talk to my team I have questions about my meds

  79. Jay James Needham    

    I have had some issues with the VA websites but they have gotten a lot better in a very short time. As far as their reaction time I have had very little issues with the VA compared to the early 80’s. The VA is my primary sorce of Health care and mental health care and I couldn’t be more pleased with my PHC team and my specialty health care dictors. I thank god for my VA health beniefits every day.

    Jay Needham

  80. Jimmie Mayweather    

    Nothing and no one works the way it should with the VA healthcare system..Nothing. The employees lie to you, don’t know what they are doing and don’t care. I needed cataracts removed and the nurse put in a consult for general surgery. My son who is a veteran almost died due to incompetence. If I didn’t have a medical background (Retired Navy Corpsman) and a job that I can stay on the phone 8 hours a day, he wouldn’t be able to get anything done. He was being treated for a bacterial sinus infection and it was a fungus sinus infection that got so bad he ended up having brain surgery and a stroke. He was placed in a nursing home 5 hours from where we live that was so bad the VA social worker apologized for the condition of the place. Because of the condition of the place his mom and I had to travel every weekend for 7 months to visit to make sure he was okay. After four months the VA wanted to discharge him from the nursing home and send him home without a needed hospital bed, hoyer lift or any other needed equipment. The social worker than lied for 3 months saying they couldn’t figure out how to get the equipment to our home. After three months I finally contacted a nurse in Mobile, Alabama that got equipment and his transportation to us in three weeks. After which I’m on the phone daily to make sure consults are done, travel to appointment are done. Just yesterday I had to travel 4 hours round trip to pick a antifungal medication that provider didn’t right refilled for, wait another 2 1/2 hours waiting for the medication to be approved (although we had received the meds prior). I received enough for 21 days. I was told he wouldn’t be able to get another refill of the antifungal medication with him seeing a infection disease doctor. His provider put in a consult for a infection disease doctor 48 days ago. If he don’t get the meds, he could possibly have a recurrence of the infection that cause all of this in the first place. When he had the surgery we were told with the infection everyone has a 50% survival rate, so will we back to square one. With each appointment and with each prescription and with each everything we attempt to do with the VA I have go through lies, denials, transfers to wrong numbers, do the VA’s job for them. I feel sorry for folk that don’t have a clue concerning medical care or don’t have the time due to work to stay on the phone 8 hours a day. Not any of the above is an exaggeration, I wish it was. The provider here is great, her support staff sucks, if they had been active duty Navy they would be washing dishes in the galley. Lack of customer service.

  81. Jersey Jeanne Goldy-Sanitate, MS-OD    

    Way to go Tim. Great article and advice.

    I have been using the VHA system since 1985. I have worked at the several VAMC’s from billing department to Blind Rehab first as a Low Vision Specialist then as an Optometrist from 1986-1998. I used these tactics since 1990. I will like to add another tactic. Go on va.gov/publications section and find the VHA directive that pertains your needs. I learned about these while advocating for my patients. You may have to scroll through and look at the titles to find what applies to you. These directives are MANDATES that ALL VAMC’s MUST follow, the protocol for each clinic/section… Many will say no we don’t do that at this VAMC, WRONG!!!!, but once you mention the VHA number they will do what you are eligible for. KNOWLEDGE is POWER for us veterans. I only use these directives when I need services or prosthetics for which I am eligible or need. Being 100 P&T there isn’t much I do not qualify for. These are so important for Spinal Cord Injury/Spinal Cord Disorder patients as a slew of services no one tell you about are listed in these directives. If someone tell you they are just suggestions, that is so WRONG, each VAMC in the VHA system is MANDATED to follow these.

    I have been to excellent VAMC’s and substandard & attitudinal VAMC’s.. I let the supervisors know very quickly when I have a negative experience, if they give me attitude, I go up the line until I get a positive attitude. Sometimes I have to go as high as the Director. I also follow it up with a visit tot the Patient Advocate. This is a tool many veterans do not use. Many Patient Advocates are horrible so I suggest, keep going up the line until you get the results you DESERVE. REMEMBER WE VETERANS ARE NOT AN INTERRUPTION TO THE VHA EMPLOYEE’S JOB, WE ARE THE REASON THEY HAVE A JOB.

    I may be seen as a rebel, but hey, these benefits are ones I EARNED, I never use the word entitled as I see the benefits I am eligible for I have EARNED by my HONORABLE service to our country as well as being injured on duty. Being a female veteran I have to fight harder to get the services and care I need and I also help many of my Warrior Sisters to get what they need. I so help many male veterans as well. I pass on the information to the veterans I help and it is up to them to follow through with this information I give them. You are absolutely correct to follow-up, advocate for yourself and most of all be PROACTIVE and not wait for the VA to contact you. Stay on top of them.

    In closing I have learned to schedule my follow-up appointment before I leave, I do not wait of them to give me one through the mail as I have gotten the notice many times the day after my scheduled time and was put in as a no show.. That only happened once. I know with this new 30 day requirement for an appointment they will not schedule a follow-up for a 3 or 6 month down the road. I then use MyHealtheVet, another jewel to request an appointment. Any entry made on MyHealtheVet is logged into ones medical records, so that is a paper trail.. This is a Wicked Sweet tool to use if you need documentation to get denied services or care..

    Ok all you whiners and complainers out there, Tim gave you wicked sweet pointers, now it is up to you to be your own ADVOCATE and be PROACTIVE..

  82. RALPH COULES    

    I GO TO THE MCHENRY ILL VA CLINIC AND MY PRIMARY DR AND HIS NURSES ARE THE GREATEST, WENT UP TO MILWUAKEE VA AND THE PERSON I HAD AN APPOINTMENT WITH WAS OUTSTANDING, SAME CAN BE SAID ABOUT THE NORTH CHICAGO CLINIC

  83. Pamela Kelly    

    All of this is correct, I do it myself, but it is still possible to hit snags, especially if the VA you use is a popular one in a very populated large city. The La Jolla VA in San Diego, CA, and ALL of the outlying clinics together, had a total of 5 GYN doctors when this happened to me. I had post menopausal bleeding, as it is a possible sign of cancer, a woman should be seen within 24 hours, (per advice line nurse). I waited for a few months to be seen. I was lucky it wasn’t cancer or it would have continued growing during that time I waited.

  84. Brad Johnson    

    I get excellent care from The Atlanta VA!!!! Like the author, I, too, have scratched my head when I’ve read some of the complaints as I have NEVER experienced anything close to it!

  85. Fred Long    

    No Kiosks, no second clinic in Rural America. Wait 2 years for surgery. 500 mile round trip for most specialties. NO ONE EVER ANSWERS THE PHONE. My healthy vet is a black hole at times. Its good some vets get good care, most don’t , believe it or not. Primary care run by nurses. Have seen a Dr 3 times in 10 years. Can provide less than 60% of my meds. Had a medical emergency , was authorized local hospital until stable then 250 miles to VA hospital. All in all it’s a terrible system. Deny, Deny, until they die is their real motto. You don’t want the care most of us get … or should I say Lack of care.

  86. Chuck Shaffer    

    It’s our VA I’m a 100% disabled, way I see it now is I own it and since like any other military mission I choose to make it better. See the news this morning? This article is all over the networks and being smeared, why? It actually helped me, PTSD TBI and other issues. I really appreciate the tips, coping skills. That is what they are and good ones. The VA has issues and knows it and I see progress, I fill out the patients critiques at the end of each visit and tell it like I see it. I get responses I see change I feel good going there. Go ahead jump over the request made by VA staff to help make the system better, After seeing news today I’m embarrassed, some folks won’t be happy unless they shut the place e down. You people complaining and wanting a spoon-feeding nanny to babysit your every need are wrong, thing is most complainers won’t even help a fellow vet out of a car in the handicap space just complain about why they can’t have the spot. Make it better make it work and any tip out there to make my visit better is always appreciated.

  87. Gary    

    Ghee, I guess the VA is great right….I don’t think so…The VA and it’s doctors refused to put a consult in for an MRI in 4 VA medical Center over 22 years. I have complained about my back and neck for ever…they send me through medical boards with x-rays and reports but never with any MRI or it’s report but they do allow measurements to be used in determining just what range of motion I have…every report says very little, shows some degenerative things but no disc problems…which every health care provider knows…so why not show what an MRI reveals…it’s so the VA does not have to pay for damages…I had 4 herniated discs when I left the military and over time complained about my back and neck…no physical therapy from any VA health care facility except for me to stretch which I normally do…well I’ve had 16 herniated discs for years…the VA won’t tough me since the damage is beyond what they consider workable…so since I’ve lived with this for so long on my own they won’t touch me….why….since I’ve been this way so many other issues have developed and to me the VA has and is delaying medical care to veterans so they can die without getting necessary health care. I was told by my health care provider that the VA will not send me for an MRI…well after 22 years I got one through the VA so really why now after 22 years…I’ve known for years what’s going on with my spine so I ask why does the VA tell the PCP’s who they can treat and who not to?

  88. Melina S    

    What an awesome article! This is exactly how I feel about my VA. I live in San Antonio and I love the clinics here! I have had the same PCP since I started with the VA(over 15 years now) and she’s amazing. Every doctor I’ve dealt with at the VA has been caring and nice. I’ve heard about the complaints and frankly don’t understand them, from my personal experience.

    With everything in life you need to be proactive and speak up. Why would your healthcare be any different. I love my VA!

  89. Oscar D. Trujillo    

    Great article and tips. I recently came back to the U.S. after 36 years in the international market. I am a 20 year Marine and a combat Vietnam veteran. I started using the VA late November 2015 (first time using benefits). I am pleasantly surprised that things are not as bad as I was expecting. As a matter of fact I give high marks to VA. I have done about 25 visits to two VA hospitals and one VA office since end of November-to-date.

    Everything doesn’t have the color or smell of roses. I have used two hospital facilities and they have a difference and a similarity at the same time. The first and last contact person (those that sit behind a computer screens) in the different areas of the hospitals are vastly different in their customer relations. What I call the “Meet & Greet” ambassadors. My experience is that about 70% of them should not be there. As a matter of fact I have a feeling that I am imposing more work on them, invading their space, their own everyday personal issues, which they should have left them home and not make them an issue taking care of a Customer – A Veteran.

    Such a difference it would make if all those “Meet & Greet” personal are there because they are “sensitive” to customer (veteran) relations. Just something as simple as having their name where we can see it (do you see it during your visits?). What about a good morning, good afternoon with his/her name attach to it? What about some rules of dress code (this past Friday – was he coming or going to the gym). Etc., etc. Like in the hospitality industry they are the first and last contact with their customer – they should be. “First & Last impression”. By the way…they are everywhere and they could drive forward a better image of the VA.

    Your article – How simple “life hacks” can make your VA health care system experience positive – is on the mark. We should all do our individual part to push our personal agenda or needs not to get something over another fellow Veteran; but, to move the VA to greater and better service for it’s membership. I am a proud Marine, Veteran and above all an American.

  90. brent muhlenberg    

    I have been in the VA medical system for more than 20 years and what Tim is saying is so very true, you are your best advocate, your best advocate. this kind of “falling thru the cracks” happens in ALL large organizations. We veterans simply need to know that we can and how to deal with it.

  91. Curtis lee denson    

    I notice you don’t mention your VA ,since 2012 agent orange related care 30 apointments none missed the VA
    has cancled 7, 1 hour before the apointment after I travled 167 miles one way to date none of those miles paid I am 80% gee, so did they treat your hangenail? From my limeted local VA with only Nurse praticheners and some doctor visits 6 months check up’s called for sitting on hold for hours to get apointments is not unusal its the norm. you must work fo the VA? Just so much pablam, and no I do not have PTSD, unless the VA’s buroccracy sorry about the spelling, probably being sprayed with Agent Orange and DDT in the rivers of Vietnam affected my brain or the numerous explosions abord ATC-152-10 attached to COMRIVRON15. Combat wounded and Medavaced to Yacoda Navel hoapital twice and returned to ATC-152-10 to soldier on still wounds weeping and into combat who knew this could cause gangreen? Meivaced again 17 days in the operation into Cambodia Nixon had just been sworn in, and I voted for him my first at just 19.

  92. Sandra Schneider    

    I don’t know how to use My Healthy Vet

  93. KATHY    

    There seems to be quite a variance in care.
    If you are having problems, be sure to let the VA know- per the article. Also, contact your County Veterans’ Service Officer http://nacvso.org/find-a-service-officer/ and visit their office and let them know you are having the problems you are. Where I live a lot of folk were complaining about an employee at the clinic and they were removed with the help of the VSO there.
    If you have PTSD go to a Vet Center – great program!!!! http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/index.asp

  94. KATHY    

    If you are going to the VA and won’t be paid for your travel, you might be able to get a FREE ride with the DAV vans program — it’s awesome and FREE! Be sure to tell those making your appointment that you need to have it at a time that accomodates your van schedule.

    https://www.dav.org/veterans/i-need-a-ride/

  95. Donald Herman    

    Here’s another cute trick. Veteran’s choice called today. They want me to attend physical therapy in a town 25 miles away. I have a physical therapy unit which accepts government compensation already (medicare and tricare for life) literally a hundred yards away. I asked if I would be compensated for mileage, and was told “no”. So I have to either drive 94 miles round trip to my nearest VAMC physical therapy clinic, but get mileage compensation, or drive 50 miles round trip and get no compensation at all. I talked to the local clinic and they said they just need to talk to VA choice and work out the payments and all that. I have told VA choice that twice now, but they apparently are not interested in calling my local clinic to get a relationship started.

    I am almost to the point of telling the VA system to go bleep itself and use Medicare and Tricare For Life and get decent medical care on the civilian market.

Comments are closed.