When Veterans Should Use Urgent Care Centers vs. Emergency Departments

Do you know?


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Should a sore throat or a rash send a Veteran to the emergency department or an urgent care center? Sometimes it’s difficult to be sure. So, VA wants to make it easy by providing a clear-cut description of where to go for the health care Veterans need.

Urgent care centers, whether at a VA Health Care System or one located in a community, provide easy access to quality health care when a Veteran does not have time to wait to see a regular primary care provider or their office is closed.

If a Veteran lives close to the VA Health Care System, choosing to visit an urgent care center may be best if the illness or injury is non-life-threatening. Their medical expertise and commitment to personalized attention ensures Veterans with urgent health needs receive the very best care.

“For life-threatening emergencies, such as stroke symptoms or head trauma, they require a visit to your closest emergency department,” Dr. Mark Todd, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Salem VA Medical Center located in Salem, Virginia, said. “A minor injury or illness that does not appear to be life threatening and cannot wait until the following day should be treated at an urgent care center.”

As part of implementing the VA MISSION Act of 2018, VA started offering urgent care services to provide Veterans with greater choice and access to timely, high-quality care. To find an urgent care center, visit VA Urgent Care Locator.

When should a Veteran go to an urgent care center?

For acute symptoms such as, sinus infections, sore throats, rashes, low back pain, or urinary tract infections to treat those minor illnesses or injuries. Some other examples of non-emergent care include:

  • Bee stings
  • Earaches
  • Eye infections/irritations
  • Minor burns
  • Minor cuts and lacerations
  • Sports-related injuries
  • Sprains

When should a Veteran go to an emergency department?

Emergency Medical Care Poster - VAntangePoint

An emergency condition is one that can permanently endanger a Veteran’s life. Some examples of conditions that  need emergency medical care can include:                                

  • Heart attack symptoms (severe chest pain)
  • Stroke symptoms
  • Moderate to severe difficulty breathing
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Poisoning
  • Head trauma
  • Vomiting blood or coughing up blood
  • Loss of consciousness

If a Veteran is experiencing a life-threatening injury, dial 911 immediately. Emergency department visits are necessary for true emergencies. If greater care is required, VA health care physicians will transfer Veterans directly to a hospital emergency room for further treatment.

Author

Brett Robbins

Brett Robbins is an Army Veteran serving as a communications specialist detailed to Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Experience Office.

Comments

  1. Anthony J Martinez    

    Hello,do I need to call my Primary care before I go to the urgent care for eye infection? Or just go to urgent care.

    Thanks

  2. Betty Jo Moultrup    

    My local VA is telehealth. My closest VA Urgent care is 62 miles or 45 minutes away. So this past week when I was running a temp of 101+ with a nasty cold sore instead of driving that far could I have gone to the local Urgent Care. I wouldn’t go to the Er for this but My closest VA hospital doesn’t have an ER either. So what are my choices. Fortunately with the fact that I am a nurse and the Web I was able to treat myself until I could get in touch with a NP that I know that could see and treat me without spending alot

  3. robert j erickson    

    Just need to know if there any cost to me?

  4. Daphne Gilpin    

    Thanks for explaining that veterans should go to urgent care centers when suffering from acute systems like back pain or a sore throat. My husband has had a pretty bad sore throat for a few days now, so I’ve been trying to find info online about his options for medical care. I’m glad I read your article because you helped me see why visiting an urgent care center would be a good option for his situation.

  5. leonard f malott    

    look folks
    it’s up to you to manage your health and be proactive with your providers. if you don’t need to call an ambulance you don’t need an emergency room. If your VA medical center is more than an hour away and you have a non hospital emergency go to urgent care. otherwise wait and visit your VA medical center the next day. NOW for all you folks that use the VA services for whatever reason and have the nerve to complain about the services the VA provides just STOP to all of you. I recently started using the VA health services a few years ago because i couldn’t afford private insurance and didn’t know i was even eligible. MY OPINION is what a godsend and i’m not religious person. I feel the VA at least in my area is top notch and maybe even better than having Private ins. and doctors. so check yourselves AMERICAN VETERANS.

    1. Larry Hart    

      I’m not even going to explain my recent scenario to you – but I’ll just say, you are WRONG – with regards to my situation. I didn’t call/need an ambulance, I drove myself – to the ER. The closest VA center is about an hour away. And had I gone to an Urgent care – they would NOT have been able to provide the care I needed – which was spine surgery. And no, I couldn’t have sat around waiting to be transferred or whatever – as I learned that the longer I had to wait for the surgery, the more my chances of spinal damage and/or paralysis. So, you go check yourself – before getting on your high horse and talking down to AMERICAN VETERANS.

  6. Debra Carleen Roberts    

    So how is driving 40 minutes to see a nurse practitioner a better option for me? Why can’t the VA work with my local hospital, which is brand new? Why am I penalized constantly for wanting to live outside the boundaries of the rat race?

    This is barely better than before, when I got screwed over for going to ER for lots of blood in my urine! Saddled with a $5,000.00 hospital bill.

    Dissatisfied with the VA constantly.

  7. Albert Consalvi    

    How do I locate these clinics?

  8. Richard G kensinger    

    As a former AF ER medic and now a clinical psychologist treating those w/ health and life threatening disorders, I define the difference among urgent, emergent, and non-emergent in terms of serious risk to one’s health or impending death. ER’s are very precious resources. It is my experience that many presentations in an ER meet none of the above criteria. And as it relates to vets, my highest priority are former combatants, then those who serve in combat zones! In a combat zone 1 in 5 do the actual fighting, and the rest of us provide valued support.
    Rich

  9. Robert G. Bauman    

    I have had Severe Breathing Problems for several years. i have had many tests, but the VA says there is “nothing wrong with me!” They check my heart (I have Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy), but my Cardio Dr. and I agree, everything is find with my heart. My lungs are 95% clear . I have a Deviated Septum in my Right Nostril, but fixing it will not help with my breathing. Moisture/humidity cause tremendous gasping and loss of energy with tightness in my chest/stomach areas. It is difficult to climb stairs, walk more then 20 feet, lift anything over 10 pounds, and I become light-headed. Nobody wants the spend the VA’s precious money, because t-Rump needs it, so I am told to go home and walk…”even if it kills me”!!

    1. Rod Miller    

      You can’t do anything except complain!

  10. Master    

    Thanks for the information

  11. Jeff Babel    

    I’ve learned you can’t go to Urgent Care for IV fluids, perhaps this will help others.

  12. gotu kola    

    The number and instructions in the VA Urgent Care Benefit propaganda (Call 1-833-4VETNOW (1-833-483-8669) to verify if the Veteran is eligible for urgent care services and to ensure your timely payment of claims) does not work.

    I have called the number for the last three days and I get “your call cannot be completed as dialed” no matter how I enter the telephone number into my phone.

    When I showed the VA Urgent Care Benefit propaganda to the Huntsville CBOC non-Information booth and Patient (lack of) Education folks this morning, they refused to help and said they have “nothing to do with the Mission Act.”

    Despite the terrible responses I received this morning, does anyone know what the REAL number is “to verify if the Veteran is eligible for urgent care services and to ensure your timely payment of claims?”

  13. Howard Zang    

    An Urgent Care Center is a great idea. However, being closed for 12 out of every 24 hours doesn’t really provide much help when everything else would be closed anyway. You’re still stuck having to use an emergency room at a local hospital which may not be familiar with billing the VA. Leaving the Veteran stuck with an enormous medical be they may not be able to afford to pay.

  14. tffcff@google.com    

    I go to the Pottsville Clinic and have for 2+ years. It’s fine , except when they generate prescriptions which if filled by an outside source (i.e. Walmart) the VA sometimes questions the need. Can be a real problem. I recommend you have the “urgent care” facility send prescriptions requests directly to VA for overnight fill and ship.

  15. Michael F. Kennedy    

    I am 100 percent disabled. My wife uses the Women’s clinic at the Brooklyn NY VA medical center. The question is this would she be allowed to use the Urgent Care Centers too? Appreciate a response. Thank you

    1. Robert G. Bauman    

      My wife uses ChampVA and can go to any Doctor she wants, the VA covers the cost. Check with your VSO. ChampVA is for Disabled Vets spouses, not Retired, that is TriCare. ChampVA can be used with Medicare.27

  16. Bubba    

    Lets say I go to an urgent care provider with a very sore throat or an infected sore or cellulitus. The provider then either sends me to a third party lab service or he collects lab specimens. How do I make sure that I don’t get stuck with a bill on lab work that would be standard medical protocol for relatively minor care issues?

  17. Luke Debrau    

    You must watch and manage the VA very closely. The VA talks good to be political but all of this is about the VA not the veteran and how it impacts the bottom line.

  18. Robin Busby    

    Went to ER after a woodenwith a severely smashed thumb. Triage thought it was either broken or out of socket. However, after careful examination, it was noted that is was not broken or out of socket…so I was billed for the ER visit! How can it be determined that it was not an emergency? Oh, that’s right, it wasn’t the viewer that experienced it…because I garauntee if they did, I’d find them at nearest ER. I lived in Knightdale, NC and the VA ER is in Durham, NC.

    1. Robin Busby    

      My apologies for the very first sentence. I was removing a wooden wall mounted (space saver) desk that has the top of the desk folding out to make a small desk area. The total weight is 77 lbs. so let’s say that the top material that is mounted weighs around 50lbs…this part came loose from the wall and smashed my thumb with the top of the desk.

  19. Mark Douglas    

    Thank-you to all of the people at the Manchester Nh a lot of kind helpful people have been very helpful showing me where I needed to go.

  20. Paul Hogan    

    Does the VA cover the cost of the urgent care center?

    1. Amber Struss    

      There are certain requirements and limitations, however, yes…the VA will cover the cost of the Urgent Care as long it is VA “network” facility (just call the department of veterans affairs and they will let you know what facilities in your area you can go to). You will also need to be enrolled in VA benefits and have seen a VA doctor within 24 months of your Urgent Care visit. Disability ratings will determine whether you have to pay a deductible or not.

    2. BILL GAGNON    

      GLAD THAT FOLKS HELPED YOU OUT.I A VN VET AND WAS RAISED IN MANCHESTER.BEST TO YOU AND TAKE CARE
      BILL GAGNON

  21. michael j gemmel    

    Where is an Urgent Center near me? Michael Gemmel New Boston Mi 48164

  22. Steve Smith    

    I live many miles away from any VA service centers. I was on Veterans Choice and am now on the new program. However, the urgent care center in my area is not approved by the VA for me to go to. The closest approved urgent care is 60 miles away in a city. That center is within a few miles of a VA center. Why would the VA approve an urgent care center that is 1. In a city 2. Very near to VA services 3. Who would approve an urgent care center in a place like that and not approve one in my area, which is supposed to be an area that this program is designed to service.

    1. Jeri    

      The centers have to want to be included. It’s not the VA picking them. It’s the canter choosing not to participate. Happening everywhere.

    2. Robert G. Bauman    

      I live 130 Miles (one way) from my VAMC, there is a VA Clinic 37 miles, but has no Emergency Services. I have a deadly heart condition with a Pacemaker. If I have ANY type problem, even just a fall, my wife has to drive me that 130 miles (2 Hours away). anyone want to bet on whether I survive or not??
      Living within 40 miles of a Clinic, even without UC or ER nullifies Veteran’s Choice, I’m on my OWN!

  23. Shanda Garth    

    Thanks a lot for the breakdown. It makes decision making simpler for future health issues when unable to go to VA PCM or the VA ED.

  24. E.C. McKinley    

    How do I find the urgent care center near me?

  25. Marquita Toombs    

    When we go to an urgent care center, who pays for it??? Most want payment up front. How does this work for veterans without tricare or any other health insurance? But I am 100 percent permanent and total. Please inform me!!!

    1. Robert G. Bauman    

      The VA keeps telling me, when I go to a non-VC Hospital to tell them I am a Veteran, show your ID. They will fill out the forms and take care of everything. But, TOO many times I’ve heard, even after that, the VA will find an EXCUSE to not pay!!
      GOOD LUCK!!!

  26. Irene Terrill    

    Thank you. Where do we fit?…went to urgent care not ER
    BUT
    3 days last the county health office calls our urgent care provider telling provider to send us to the ER because the local hospital is the only place that has rabies vaccine which my husband must now have administered because the dog is now quarantined & not vaccinated!

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