4 Things I Learned During My First Appointment At The VA

Veterans Benefits
Capt. Sarah Freidel, 34th Bomb Squadron flight surgeon, performs a valsalva maneuver on Staff Sgt. Jacob Appleby, 28th Medical Operations Squadron ambulance services technician, during a physical exam in the flight medicine clinic on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., May 2, 2012.
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kate Maurer

Just before Veterans Day, and slightly over seven years after leaving the service, I finally had my first doctor’s appointment with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Like most vets, I’d heard both positive and negative stories about VA health care and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d have to say my experience was somewhere in the middle and, perhaps most importantly, very informative.


Related: The 4 key things that must be proven in every VA benefits claim »

Here are a few of the things I learned:

1. Not all VA clinics are created equal.

I originally enrolled in VA health care in 2011. I went to the local VA hospital, turned in my VA Form 10-10EZ, and had my picture taken. I was told my VA identification card would arrive in the mail in a few weeks and I would get a phone call or letter with an appointment date in roughly the same amount of time. Well, my ID never showed up and I finally got that phone call three years later.

When I decided to try again this time in a different city and a different VA hospital I went in with low expectations. The registration process, though, was fairly quick and painless and the woman who helped me was so polite that I hunted down her boss to tell her so. Even more surprising, the very next day, I had a letter in my mailbox with an appointment date scheduled less than 30 days later. While that initial appointment had to be cancelled due to physician illness, I was immediately rescheduled for two weeks later.

2. An extra copy of medical records would have been useful.

While we often think of VA as one cohesive entity, it actually has several distinct parts, two of which are the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Veterans Health Administration. According to the doctor I saw, the arm of VA responsible for determining disability compensation claims, and the arm of VA responsible for health services, do not share information. In fact, according to the doctor, information submitted to the Benefits Administration in support of a claim becomes confidential and cannot be shared with Health Administration without the veteran’s direct permission.

Not only would bringing a copy of my medical records have given the doctor some idea of my history, but it also would have improved my care  at least specifically when it came to the primary reason I’d gone in, namely the possibility of transferring prescriptions to the VA pharmacy. If you are like me and have spent a lot of time trying to get the right mix of prescriptions for your condition(s), you don’t want to have to start over or accept a substitute that you know doesn’t work. VA, like all health care networks, has its list of “formulary” drugs that are essentially prescriptions your VA doctor could write for you without jumping through any hoops because VA approves them and, often, keeps them on-hand. If you need a “non-formulary” medication, VA will, according to the doctor I saw, want you to switch to a formulary version of the medication unless the doctor can give cause why you need the non-formulary. Which is where having your medical records is helpful, as it can provide your VA doctor with the needed justification.

3. Not everyone has a co-pay.

I went into VA with the vague idea that there was a “you-broke-it-you-bought-it” rule in effect regarding my care. Essentially, if it was service-connected, the VA was responsible for the medical costs and I wouldn’t have a co-pay. However, after my visit, I called the claims department, just to be sure. A very pleasant gentleman informed me that VA would not be charging me a co-pay, ever, for any reason. Because I have a greater than 50% compensable VA service-connected disability rating, I would never be charged a co-pay, whether I went to the VA for a service-connected or nonservice-connected condition. Because I had gone for a compensable service-connected condition this time, they also would not be charging my health insurance. Recently, I picked up the 2014 version of the VA’s “Federal Benefits for Veterans Dependents and Survivors” and found even more useful details on who has to pay co-pays, how much they are, and for which services.

4. Veterans contribute to the delay in appointments.

Of all the reasons veterans may have difficulty getting access to VA health care, I know this is low on the list. However, I’m mentioning it because it’s something that we, as veterans, can do to help each other out.

As I sat answering questions for the nurse, she received notice that four veterans had cancelled their appointments for that day. Things come up, but every cancelled appointment means that not only are you not being seen, but neither is another veteran who could have used that spot. If you make an appointment at the VA, you should keep it. If you can’t, at least try to cancel with enough notice that your appointment can be given to another veteran who needs it.

One team, one fight, right?

It has been a deadly year for Green Berets, with every active-duty Special Forces Group losing a valued soldier in Afghanistan or Syria.

A total of 12 members of the Army special operations forces community have died in 2019, according to U.S. Army Special Operations Command. All but one of those soldiers were killed in combat.

In Afghanistan, Army special operators account for 10 of the 17 U.S. troops killed so far this year. Eight of the fallen were Green Berets. Of the other two soldiers, one was attached to the 10th Special Forces Group and the other was a Ranger.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Documents from the Pentagon show that "far more taxpayer funds" were spent by the U.S. military on overnight stays at a Trump resort in Scotland than previously known, two Democratic lawmakers said on Wednesday, as they demanded more evidence from the Defense Department as part of their investigation.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the heads of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee and one of it subcommittees said that while initial reports indicated that only one U.S. military crew had stayed at President Donald Trump's Turnberry resort southeast of Glasgow, the Pentagon had now turned over data indicating "more than three dozen separate stays" since Trump moved into the White House.

Read More Show Less
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley from 1979's 'Alien' (20th Century Fox)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

QUANTICO, Va. -- Marines who spend much of their day lifting hefty ammunition or moving pallets full of gear could soon get a helping hand.

The Marine Corps is close to signing a deal to test an exoskeleton prototype that can help a single person move as much as several leathernecks combined.

Read More Show Less
NEC Corp.'s machine with propellers hovers at the company's facility in Abiko near Tokyo, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. The Japanese electronics maker showed a "flying car," a large drone-like machine with four propellers that hovered steadily for about a minute. (Associated Press/Koji Sasahara

'Agility Prime' sounds like a revolutionary new video streaming service, or a parkour-themed workout regimen, or Transformers-inspired niche porno venture.

But no, it's the name of the Air Force's nascent effort to replace the V-22 Osprey with a militarized flying car — and it's set to take off sooner than you think.

Read More Show Less
In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

Task & Purpose is looking for a dynamic social media editor to join our team.

Our ideal candidate is an enthusiastic self-starter who can handle a variety of tasks without breaking a sweat. He or she will own our brand's social coverage while working full-time alongside our team of journalists and video producers, posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (feed, stories, and IGTV), YouTube, and elsewhere.

Read More Show Less