Bridging the VA Trust Gap

When I discussed the possibility of employment at VA with my future boss, he asked if I had used VA services myself.

“Just the GI Bill,” I said. “I’m not going to take my chances in a VA hospital.”

I was a couple years out of the Army, still young but not young enough to ignore the ailments resulting from a combat tour as an infantryman. I didn’t have any exposure to the medical care side of VA, and just assumed it wasn’t for me. I simply “heard” from “them” that the care was subpar. And since then, I’ve proven my own misconceptions wrong. Many VA facilities have ranked among the best hospitals in the country—and I declined excellent federal employee health insurance benefits to utilize VA care exclusively.

I’ve heard similar murmurs from countless Veterans since I’ve been here, and while I understand the skepticism, it’s simply unconstructive and potentially harmful to spread falsehoods and inaccuracies to folks that need help–ranging from common illnesses to surgery and life-long mental health care. Not to mention other services, like home loans and education benefits.

Skepticism formed from second-hand information isn’t beneficial to anyone, and simply put, it doesn’t help your buddy to tell them to stay out of the VA system.

I’ll be completely honest: I’ve had a few frustrating moments with VA medical care over the years, but the good far outweighs the bad. When I go to appointments, I actively look for problems. I usually come away with none (and I don’t tell anyone I work for VA). I try to tell both sides to give balance to that monolithic idea of VA that Veterans hold. It can be difficult, as folks tend to conflate problems like the claims backlog to health care and end up avoiding both. But that isn’t a solution for anyone.

It’s fair to suggest that any tooting of our own horn would be met with skepticism, so that’s where third-party validations come into play. Somewhere in the middle of satisfied and unsatisfied Veterans enrolled in VA care are millions of undecided Vets who, for any number of reasons, don’t pursue benefits. We need to convince those people to swing by, but we have to end this chronic cynicism of VA.

So this is an open invitation to any Veterans service organization, non-profit, church group, sewing circle, online discussion board, student Veterans group—anyone really—who would like to help correct this chronic issue of mistrust. Drop me a line at newmedia@va.gov with “VA trust gap” in the subject line, and we’ll toss around ideas on how we get folks into the system. I can also help connect you with folks from the benefits, health, and cemetery offices to discuss more specific issues.

It’s past the time where we are content with throwing up our hands and ceding large swaths of Veterans because we don’t know how to reach them. A lot of that has to do with building trust on our end, but to begin, we have to get a handle on the untruths out there. So let’s talk. The line is now open.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

41 Comments to “Bridging the VA Trust Gap”

  1. The services I have received over the pass 30 years has been great. Asking questions and advocating for yourself helps in your healthcare.

    • HOWARD M. AIELLO says:

      I have been using the VA health care for quit a while and have found the care and quality of the care I have received to be excellent.

  2. Tom Garvey says:

    How can I trust the VA with my medical care when my disability claim hasn’t been resolved after 9 years?

    • Shawn says:

      The health side (VHA) is separate from the benefits side (VBA). I am a Veteran who also works at a VA hospital, so see both sides of the issue. Because the hospital employees are there to treat your knee or back or whatever, they often are limited in knowledge about VA benefits (financial). If you went to a Regional Office (VBA) working on a VA compensation package and then asked the VA employee about your medications, they likely could not assist you as they are not experts in all things healthcare. It would be great if both the VHA and VBA were always next door to each other, ‘one stop shop’, but logistics limit that. To save yourself frustrations, ask yourself, “Do I have a health question or a benefits question and who am I talking to? (VHA or VBA employee)”. Employees in both areas mean well and can sometimes get you in the right direction, but no one is an expert on all things VA so it helps to not allow yourself to get frustrated when the person does not have an answer for you. Just distinguish if you are asking the right person and know they might refer you to someone else. Ex: a nurse in the clinic might not know how “unemployability” works, but hopefully you get referred to the VBA or a Veterans Service Organization like the DAV, AMVETs, etc. So, even though you have frustrations with the financial benefits part of the VA, please don’t let that stop you from receiving care from the health side of the VA (ie, those who have no part in processing your claim, but just want to provide top-notch healthcare). I started receiving healthcare after my first Iraq tour about 7 years ago and have observed as a patient and employee how the VA strives for improvement and does make steps to ensure you receive the care you deserve.

  3. Harvey Hoven says:

    I have used VA hospitals and clinics for about 13 years and I totally pleased with the services that I have received. When you have an appointment, hardly ever will you have to wait. Medicines are either mailed to you or you can pick them up at the hospital depending on your situation but we have to send or call in our RX info. Not all is well, when applying for benefits, the physicians (some, not all), think their job is to disqualify you rather than help you.
    I have worked with VA outreach programs that have made me familiar with Veterans needs and their concerns. I am qualified to be a VA outreach representative to help Veterans. Since I have not been able to find a job with VA or other organizations because of my age (Viet Nam era), I would be an ideal candidate to go out to Veterans homes and meet with them and let them know about benefits available to them. I do not mind the travel, I have good work ethic and I am dependable, plus the fact, I need a job.

    Sincerely,

    Harvey R. Hoven
    40% Service Connected Disabled Veteran

    Positive: The Tuscaloosa, AL VA clinic is one of the best that I have ever seen and used. Great concern for the Veteran, caring and knowledgeable.

    Negative: All VA clinics and VA hospitals have the worst phone systems ever.

  4. Bob Levy says:

    A must read is “Best Care Anywhere” by Phil Longman.
    http://tinyurl.com/aq9q8j9
    (I get no money) Just trying to share a fantastic Book about Why the VA is the best!

  5. Glynn L. Atchley says:

    Well spoken from a true VA worker or representative. I’m happy things worked out for you, but I’m tired of constantly hearing how great the VA is. My inputs are not hearsay, they include true inputs of medical care received from other Vets I know. I know a lot of workers and hospitals are great and I’ve included both good comments and bad comments along with recommendations on how to fix problems. However, the VA claims system remains broken to include the VA Examinations, and some Veteran Service Representatives wearing VA badges. Some do a great job and others should be fired. I personally was impressed with Marion VA Examiner I had for multiple conditions that I’m claiming; but another friend and fellow Vet was mistreated and even hurt during an exam for his back. The examiner asked him to bend over as far as he could, then the Examiner pushed him even further and documented the record how far he could bend over. This has to stop! Also, my claim has been sitting at the Chicago VA Office since Sep 2010. I’ve also been told a few times in writing that my claim would be settled on a certain date. All of those dates are gone and passed. I had no other option, but to send a letter to two Congressmen and to the Illinois Director of VA . Now, I’m very interested to see how my claim is handled and if I get a fair and equal rating on my claim since I’m a whistle blower on problems with VA. I’m fully disabled with the Social Security Administration primary due to low back problems in which my Neuro-surgeon did want to take the risk of operating because it could make my condition much worse. I’ve sent Chicago VA Office my Disability Court documents along with two doctors statements with one being on VA on Form 21-09601M-14 for Back (ThoracoLumbar Spine) conditions disability benefits questionaire. I was declared fully disabled by SSA in Jul of 2012 and backdated pay to Mar 2011. I thought that the VA was going to be working more with the Social Security Administration, but evidently not when it comes to claims. I realize that there is a difference between VA and SSA disability requirements, but the primary reason I’m disabled is due to my back in which I’ve sent VA Regional Office in Chicago through my VSO (The American Legion) that is in the same building. Why can’t they rate my most critical ratings first, then look at my other conditions. It’s not fair for VA to let my claim set to the side because I have too many conditions as I was told by VA Chicago Regional Office worker. My back alone should be enough for 100 percent…

  6. John Dobise says:

    About 15 years ago a friend of mine, was taken to the ER at the VA Northport, NY. I visited him there, which was my first exposure to the VA health system, having relied upon several different health care providers and plans since I got out of the Army. Having heard of horror stories from the past, my expectation was not good. However, when I got to the hospital, I was extremely impressed, initially with the cleanliness and then with the care my friend, a Navy vet, received. The professionalism of the staff was without peer and left with an impression totally at odds with my expectation. When I received an out-reach letter from the VA, I took them up on the invitation and was again extremely impressed. Eventually, I was able to switch all of my care to the VA and have received excellent care for the past decade. During that time I have had several surgical procedures and spent a week in the Intensive Care Unit, where I was treated for a life threatening internal bled. On every occasion I have been extremely impressed with the health care I received. I have been to most of the medical facilities on Long Island, NY, whether for myself, family, friends or clients, and have found the Northport VA to be among the very best, if not the best. From the medical staff to the janitors, with a very few exceptions, the hospital is a great credit to the VA medical system. I personally urge any veteran to avail themselves of this great service. Sincerely, John Dobise

  7. Robert J Casaletto says:

    Rather than say anything I’ll just keep my mouth shut. But it’s not the same in my case. Ooops!!! My tongue is bleeding. I bit it too hard.

  8. Tom Dullaghan says:

    The VA hospitals have come a long way since I first walked in one in Albany,NY. I came back from Vietnam, and was treated like they were not happy to see me. I never went back for 30 years. I heard they were trying to reach out to my fellow vet’s from Vietnam.
    I went to the VA in Durham,NC. I was SO shocked that they really wanted to help me.

    Now, the only enemy left is the Dept. of Veterans Affairs!
    Yea they just went electronic from paper. Still it’s a night mare dealing with them.
    If you have a service-connected disability, and send in all the paperwork, you still have
    YEARS, to hear back. Also, no one ever explained to all us Vet’s, if you send in another
    disability, while the first one is being looked at, they hold up the first one until they decide on the second one!!

    • Alex Horton says:

      Tom, it’s frustrating, but if you submit additional claims, the process starts over to evaluate how and if the conditions are related, or if they are affecting each other. An evaluation needs to be a complete picture.

  9. L. Donovan says:

    VA trust gap;
    You must be in the tank for the VA.– Millions of veterans who have had their legittimate claims denied ,,health care that are done by university interns,,and putting homeless vets in the salvation army for 2 (two)weeks ,,is not the service thats was promise.BUT THANKS FOR THIS ISSUE.

  10. Paul Deutsch says:

    The criticisms of the VA also apply to all other government agencies:
    1. Very slow
    2. Unsympathetic
    3. Consider the time taken to deal with me an intrusion into their texting time.

    I’ve been fighting with the VA for 32 years about my disability rating. Every two or three years I get a letter. I promptly respond. Another two or three years go by before the next response from VA. So all this smoke and mirrors about how the VA is getting better sound to me like a big PR program. I’ll believe if and when I ever see it.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Paul, have you tried working with a Veterans organization like DAV or VFW? They can help look over your case and see what you need, or where to apply pressure. They’re tremendous advocates. They usually have an office in VA medical centers.

  11. Steve Burcroff says:

    You should take down the signs that proclaim “It takes Courage to ask for Help”. That is nonsense, it takes trust to ask for help. I am a Viet Nam vet that has avoided the VA for many years. My doctor convinced me to apply for benefits; she said I deserved. I did in June 2011.
    My claim is still not done, but I will say, that I was jolted that the hospital was clean, and I was treated well.
    This was not the case in the late seventies. Verbal abuse from the Doctors, false interviews when Reagan healed us in the early eighties was the norm. We were not a hero or a wounded warrior. We were s
    I don’t know how my claim will turn out, but even now I don’t expect much. Perhaps it was enough that know one says “you can drink agent orange and have no problems”anymore.
    To say that courage is required to ask for help is insulting and certainly indicative of the authors ignorance.
    I am well aware that many will say “get over it”, but that will only allow it to happen again.
    Thank you for the opportunity to vent the “hooch”.
    SB

    • Alex Horton says:

      Steve, I think it speaks more to the idea that seeking mental health care is a sign of weakness, which of course is not the case. It’s the opposite–that you make a conscious decision to improve yourself. But I get your frustration with it, and think trust has to be established before you open up completely.

  12. georgiegirl says:

    I worked at the VA Medical Center, Portland, Or for 18 years after I was discharged from the Air Force, and never doubted that the patients got excellent care. After I left the VA, I went to work at Kaiser (don’t ask), and I had numerous concerns during the 9 years I worked there.
    I now am receiving all of my care at the VA and have been quite pleased with the treatment I’ve received over the past six years. Don’t forget to speak up if you disagree with the treatment/care you’re receiving.

  13. Ted Herbert says:

    I have used the VA Heath Care system since the early 90′s when our local clinic was a bus that came to West Plains,MO. monthly. We now have a new clinic. The care I have received
    over the years has been the best. From my primary care team Rich and Johnny up front to D.Walker, Susan And Tammy, to Dr. J.Dunn and Dr. Maniet specialists in St.Louis.
    The VA has an “at-a-boy” campaign. The problem is they ALL are exceptional. The team at the Bluff from Jeff who drives us from Poplar Bluff to St Louis. to Jerry and his associates
    in CT scans and the many others who’s names I don’t recall. Any minor concerns are addressed in a timely manner. Ted Herbert

  14. John Yaworski says:

    I think one of the issues in trust for me is when I applied for medical benefits on the web the site stated that I would not be denied benefits if I did not add my income information. I then received a letter that denied benefits due to no income information being listed. I did not list any income because I have not had any income since December 2011 and did not have my childrens’s SSN numbers as I am now divorced. The rejection letter also pointed to a web site for assistance for an appeal. The website http://www.va.gov/vso displays the following:

    The VSO web page has been removed while we determine a new process and policy by which VSOs and MSOs will be listed in VA’s directory. In the interim, please visit the Office of General Counsel’s Accreditation web site to find information on accredited VSO organizations and organizations chartered by Congress.

    I think that there is a reasonable amount of mistrust generated. I have up to a year to appeal. Will they decide on what they are going to do for support by then? How long has it been not supported now?

    • Craig Manning says:

      I work in the eligibility department for the VA and would be more than happy to review your application for healthcare benefits to determine exactly why you were denied. If I can fix it there would be no need for an appeal. My direct line is 857-203-5463. -Craig

  15. LMEspey-Francis says:

    98per cent excellent. 12/11 my clinic let me down big time. I had an important follow-up after ER admission and without a Congressional inquiry my repeated requests were refused. Three months later I told the staff and they were rightly sorry. Sometimes when a patient is really sick you have to be well enough to insist on care. That happens everywhere on this case the pigeonhole orderliness was cruel to me. I’m still with VA but what happened to me shouldn’t have happened. And I Fought to get the care I just decided I wouldn’t do a Confressional. . . At my expense.

  16. John Martin says:

    I’ve had nothing short of excellence in medical care at the LBVA.

  17. Joseph Simpson says:

    The Department Of Veterans Affairs has created this issue by not being dependable and honest with vets and their families as well as the American public. A Philadelphia radio station did a study of calls to the VA for information and help. They posed as vets and or family members. The results were very sad; VA employees were rude, gave wrong information and even hung up on vets and family when questioned about wrong information. this is just plain wrong and Illegal. The VA claims things are better when in fact for almost TWO MILLION Claims backlog and Appeals things are worse. Suicides and Homelessness are Up, too many vets chose to be homeless rather then deal with the VA and the never ending games. And the VA continually lies, they are their own worst enemy and cannot be trusted. Until the VA ends the games and valid claims backlog nothing will change. The negligence is well documented with several OIG reports on illegal actions by VA Regional Offices as well as numerous College studies on the suffering of vets and their families at the hands of the VA this includes violations of BVA Remands and BVA Judges orders. The VA operates Above the law with major violations of VA Regulations and Due Process Rights violations, the very bases of the American Judicial System. I believe this will all come to a head very soon, I would like to see a mass protest on Washington like never before with VA and Government officials held accountable for the suffering of America’s Greatest asset Our Nations Veterans. The VA needs to wake up and take care of our veterans and end the claims backlog before any more vets die waiting. Then maybe the trust will begin…..

    • Alex Horton says:

      Joseph, I completely understand, and I’ve always thought that intake level admin staff leave lasting impressions on folks. How do suggest we improve customer service at that level?

  18. HOWARD M. AIELLO says:

    I am an 80% disabled Vet who has used the VA for quite a while.I am completely satisfied with the care I’ve received.

  19. MEG says:

    I am really pleased with the VA healthcare I receive for military sexual trauma. It is making a difference in my life and the lives of the other female veterans in treatment with me. I suffered for years from untreated PTSD and my family suffered as well. My treating providers at VA encouraged me to file a claim for compensation benefits in 2010, which I did. It is now 2013 and I am stuck in the appeals process now. The medical treatment I receive is great but the time I am not available for work, I have to pay for my medications, the time it takes to travel for treatment and the money it costs to travel for treatment is profound. I have to eat all of those costs myself for PTSD caused by being raped by another servicemember and not getting justice from my command or from EO. I have to eat those health care costs because VBA places a higher level of burden of proof on MST survivors than they do on any other veteran group. 19000 service members are raped every year. MST is not going away unfortunately, no matter what the brass tells our legislators. I am slowly getting my life back on track because of MST treatment through VA but the VBA made an error with my claim and now I am stuck in the appeals process for years. Thanks for the great health care VA. I wish I could say the same about VBA

  20. Beverly Malm says:

    Have had excellent care and experiences with the VA medical system while I was living in Iowa. The Iowa system is superb and should be a model for care given throughout the entire system. From being welcoming and friendly to being able twithve two-way conversation with ALL of my medical providers! That all being said, I recently moved to Oklahoma. My experience with this system, from the minute I walked through their doors has been the polar opposite. I’m considering whether the costs of private health insurance outweighs the feeling of being less than worthy of their time at the OKC VA hospital. Just from the “feeling” of the place, I do not trust them with my care.

  21. Brian Reaume says:

    I was approved for VA healthcare back in 2009 when I lost my health insurance through a job lay off. I utilized the VA healthcare until I received new health insurance through a new job. I have since been laid off again and did not know that you have to apply every year for renewal for the VA healthcare. I applied again back in early January. Can anybody tell me how long it take for a response back on whether my application is approved or denied?

  22. Seibert Adkins says:

    Upon my first visit to my CBOC facility, and afterwards to the Durham VAMC, I am sold. I’ve had several “private sector” doctors, insurance, etc. At ANY of the V.A. facilities I have rec’d treatment from, I’ve been treated with the utmost respect, and the most excellent and thorough care that I have EVER received in my whole life. To break it down simply, I will never look elsewhere for any care, no matter what the reason. I’ve never been better cared for in my life. Thank You V.A. That’s just my own personal experience.

  23. MSgt K USAF (Ret) says:

    I held off applying for VA medical care (dad always said they would kill you with bad care). Stupid me. I should have trusted no one and checked it out myself. I would have save tons in Tricare co-pays! Hampton VA in VA is pretty good. Not perfect but super for free care and I love ordering my meds on line and free mail delivery to my house! I have been on vacation and had to use VA clinics in FL and CO and rec’d excellent, quick care (stupid me forgot soome of my meds or ran out) and burnt myself.

  24. Wayne Anderson says:

    I have been using the St Cloud VA for primary care since 2005 and Minneapolis VA for cardiac care since 2009. I have been using the VA for all my health care since taking disability retirement in June 2008. I have received excellent care at all times. The only improvement could have been having some heart procedures done sooner (5-6 month wait) but this did not cause any additional problems is only because of the large number of veterans using this care. I have also used the Minneapolis
    VA emergency room 3 times with excellent care. They have also checked out a couple of potential problems which showed up during tests to make sure that there was not an actual problem.

    As far as the benefits side goes, I really cannot say much good for it. As a Thailand Vet with peripheral neuropathy there rulings are a joke. I will probably be long gone before they will admit there is any connection (if ever) to my service in Thailand in the late 60′s.

  25. Laura Biesecker says:

    I have been receiving health care with the VA system since 1996 and have had a range of qualified and respectful care ranging from absolutely wonderful to downright appalling. I am currently enrolled in the Fayetteville, NC. VA hospital as a 100% total and permanent service connected veteran and have had terrible care with the primary care and physical therapy departments. My primary care doctor has accused me (in writing) of switching doctors due to drug seeking reasons. She has affected my PTSD so horribly that I had to start bringing my husband in with me on my visits. She refused me x-rays, mri’s and consultations for other specialists in which I have had to get the chief of primary care’s office involved as well as patient advocates just to find out that my complaints were legitimate in nature. Furthermore, the pharmacy lost my last two pain med prescriptions and I had to withdraw “cold turkey” off of them because no one would help resolve my issue. I ended up in the ER with horrific stomach pains, but thanks to the ER doc I was shown how to use my existing pain meds to titrate off of them. I also had a physical therapist lie on her paperwork every time I had a visit for therapy. She claimed to have performed exercises on me, which never occurred. I was finally sent outside VA and the therapy I received for a shoulder problem left me with no pain and full range of motion. Now I’m not saying that every aspect of this or any VA facility is totally lacking in quality care. I have had no other problems with the other departments in this hospital. It seems though that there is a stigma associated with getting mental health treatment and how that determines how you are seen by other health care providers. I have had treatment for my neck and back at several VA hospitals from Dallas, Texas to Portland, Oregon and now in Fayetteville, North Carolina using therapy, pain meds and cortisone injections and now I can’t get my primary care doctor to treat me or do a consult for pain treatment at all. It’s as if all the treatment I was getting in the past for these problems didn’t occur. I have complained to patient reps recently, but have had no response to my complaint. I have also considered going to the media to lodge my concerns, but don’t really want to air my “personal” health care issues to the world. I will now be added to my husband’s insurance to be seen outside of the VA system at an increased cost to me of $200/month. This is the gap between veterans and the VA health care system that many veterans face on a daily basis…

  26. Mikia says:

    The care I have received from 1999 until now, including the benefit of using a hospital in DC to have my son in 2012, has been wonderful. The quality of the health care has always been great, however, I am glad to see more emphasis being placed on the care of women veterans.

    VA has been my exclusive means of healthcare since 1999 and that will not change in the future.

  27. navnick says:

    My relative was sent to another VA for major surgery. Less than36 hours later, he was returned by ambulance to his home VAMC. He was handed pian pills to take enroute but the ambulance had no water. Despite this transfer having been planned for days, no bed was available on arrival -there was no reason to move him if a bed was not waiting. After more than 2 hours in a holding area in ER, he was admitted to a room.
    That evening, he did not recieve his evening meds and the next mornign they gave his pain meds to another patient! 6 nurses with 16 patients and they can’t keep track?

  28. Karl MG Oertel says:

    I got married in Aug of 2012. I right away applied for my Marriage Benefits.I gave the marriage certifcate. I was told it will take 4-6 months. I couldn’t believe that so I went over to Sen Schumner’s Office and filed a inquirey complaint. Sure enough the VA gave him Lip Service.It’s now 15 days into Ferbuary I still haven’t received the extra 40+ dollars each month. This is all bunch of you know what. If they are doing this with my LITTLE amount what are they doing to the rest of the Veterans of this country? A good part of us were drafted and a lot of us didn’t want to go and this is how we are treated?
    Thank You Uncle Sam for looking out for us
    Delay Deny Wait Till I die