Saturday, January 17, 2009

Vote Vets with some VA suggestions

Vote Vets, an organization that focuses on education and advocacy on issues of importance to the troops and veterans, and holding politicians accountable for their actions on these issues, published the letter they sent to President Elect Obama.

On recommendations to make the Veterans Administration better...
1. Lack of easy access should be met with more VA hospitals and clinics and/or ability to get care elsewhere.

Many of the veterans who responded noted the long travel times veterans face in getting care, especially in rural areas. While many veterans called for more facilities to be built, a good number showed interest in veterans’ health care being folded into any national health care reform that the Obama Administration may address.

While none of the veterans suggested privatization of the VA, or doing away with it, a good number expressed interest in allowing veterans to receive care at a local non-VA facility if the closest VA center doesn’t offer the service they need, or is simply too inconvenient.

2. Prescriptions are often too expensive for many vets to afford

One of the most frequent complaints was the cost of prescription drugs. Obviously, this isn’t an issue only faced by veterans, it is a national issue which may be addressed as part of a larger health care reform package.

However, during the interim, the VA should address the cost of prescriptions for many of America’s veterans. Cost prohibitive drugs seem to force veterans to choose between medicine and other necessities.

Though the department may see the cost as reasonable, our veterans specifically pointed to low-income veterans being at a significant disadvantage. One veteran wrote, “One of the things that I object to is the price of medications charged by the VA. The jump from $2 to $8 was outrageous.”

A second veteran wrote to us, “I am a low income senior, little over $11,000 per year and I am charged $8.00/ 30 supply of medication. I think this is a damn shame.”

Another wrote, “The price for maintenance drugs are more than Blue Cross/ Blue Shield per month. Why?”

3. Emergency services need to be covered.

As one veteran wrote to us, “The Vet in need in an emergency situation should be able to go to the nearest outside the VA hospital without question. And without having to worry they may have to foot the bill at the emergency room they must to go to. None of this getting permission from the VA to go to an outside the VA facility for emergency treatment. Or, as they say, without permission you may have to pay!”

This was an often repeated suggestion from our veterans, some who noted the lack of emergency rooms at the local VA centers, leaving a hospital as the only option, with no guarantee that emergency service costs will be reimbursed by the VA.

4. Advocates are needed.

While an incredibly small number of veterans had a negative thing to say about VA workers and advocates, the difficulty they have in getting updates from the VA, or even reaching someone familiar with their case, is frustrating.

One veteran passed on this story, “My frustration is when I need to get in touch with my practitioner between appointments. It is a convoluted process that takes most of the day. You call, leave a message. Someone has four hours to return you call. Then, it is not your care giver. It is an employee who takes your information and sends an email to your care team. The nurse in the clinic reads the email and then I don't know what happens. I have never been successful in contacting my nurse practitioner. I realize that if we had direct access, they would never get a thing done except answering phone calls. They just need to find a better system. I'm sure I am not the only one frustrated.”

Suggestions most heard were appointing a permanent representative to handle your casework, to giving veterans legal representation, if they need to go to court to get the benefits they believe they deserve.

Additionally, it would make things easier for Veterans and VA staff if there was a system that was in place for the employees to identify themselves to the patients. This would aid in patients being able to know who they are talking to and to communicate to other VA employees later. An identification number that is required to be given would be a good idea.

5. Streamline and make the disability process easier to understand.

Confusion and frustration also was incredibly heated from our veterans when it came to the disability rating process. In short, most of our veterans didn’t understand it, and if they did, it was a painstaking process to figure it out.

Whether it was a rating for a physical condition, or a mental injury such as PTSD, many veterans report not understanding why they received the rating they did, or why their injuries were deemed less severe than when evaluated by an outside practitioner.

These problems were not due to new veterans simply unfamiliar with the system. We received feedback from Vietnam War Veterans who still do not understand the disability process.
General Shinseki, who is Obama's nomination for VA Chief, will have to lead the VA through this transformational period of time. He's well primed for it, based on his success in transforming some of the "heavy" armor/infantry units in the Army to a more mobile force of Strykers.

While not popular at first, especially to this old Bradley Master Gunner, his vision has proven correct.

I think he's a good man to fix what's ailing our nations Veteran's and the changes addressed by Vote Vets are desperately needed.

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