Making the VA Work
By Raymond Reed Hardy
I don't like being a political football. I mean, sure, the Military and it's activities will always be subject to a lot of political maneuvering, but this does not need to be the case for veterans, does it? I have felt this most, in recent years, in the form of both attacks and praise for the VA Healthcare system. I personally don't like to be served by an organization that is as totally bureaucratic as the VA is. I mean, I sometimes get the feeling that I could get caught in it's wheels and get totally ground up and spit out. I mean, seriously, there are so many catch 22s in the VA medical system it is dizzying, and yet, I have gotten wonderful care there. It's just that the care I have received has required the most strenuous possible self-initiated vigilance imaginable.
I am not going to give specific examples from my own medical issues, even though it would be fun to gossip. To do so would not only put my own health history out there for all to see, but it would be irrelevant since the point is that the need is for individualized health care, not institutionalized health care.
In order to make the VA health system work better for us for the long term, we veterans must be pro-active. We need to get on the stick and sign up for the "MyHealtheVet" web program. You might think you don't want to do that. It's too much trouble. You may not like working with computers or the Internet, but think for a moment how much money the VA stands to save if the vast majority of veterans sign onto the system. Soon they will only need to send out hard-copy mail to just a few veterans. The rest of us can get our notices and confirmations via email or text. We are talking millions in hardware, paper, ink, mailing, and handling expenses that can be spent on real, actual health care.
Another thing to consider is doing what your Dr. says you need to do. I know there is a tendency to say, "I'm healthy enough for my age. I don't need to lose weight or exercise, or take that medicine." But, again, think of the savings to the system. If we can keep ourselves out of the VA's emergency rooms and also the nation's private emergency rooms, we can save millions and millions of VA dollars for health care for things that we can not prevent. FOLLOW YOUR DR'S ORDERS!
Finally, BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE! Don't ever assume that you can not understand what your Dr. is trying to explain to you. Keep asking and making those funny faces that indicate that you are not getting what he or she is saying. You CAN understand, and you NEED to understand. Once you do feel that you understand what your needs are, make sure you ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED. I have been totally amazed at the willingness of my VA doctors, social workers, nurses and scheduling people to work hard on my behalf once I have made my needs clear. But, they can not help if they don't know what is needed. If your records are long and convoluted like mine, you need to summarize things for them and ask for what you need.
Finally, if you really don't mind the wait or the travel, I suggest that you don't use the Veteran's Choice program. I intuit that the VA can not suggest this because Veteran's Choice is there for us and the political pressure to create it was tremendous. And, don't get me wrong, I think it is a great and important and much needed option for many veterans. I mean really, really a good thing. But, I am just saying that it is a very expensive program that has drawn funds away from other aspects of our VA health system. So, again, if you don't really mind the wait or the drive, use the established VA clinics and hospitals rather than those available through Veteran's Choice.
Finally, please, if you don't do any of the things I have suggested above, you just HAVE to do this one. The next chance you get, THANK YOUR VA PERSONNEL FOR THE WORK THEY DO! Yes, they deserve it. They are government employees. You, of all people, know what that means. So let them know that you appreciate their service.
Have a great Veteran's Day 2016!
Raymond Reed Hardy is a Vietnam vet who served in the 1st Cav in 1968/69. After DEROS, he returned to his wife and to graduate school. Now he is a retired college professor, with three grandchildren, who is still married to the same wonderful lady who waited for him all those months and stood by him as he took literally years to re-adjust to civilian life.