What's Special about a VA Facility
And why that could change after the MISSION Act roll out on June 6
By Paul Cox & Lou Kern
Starting June 6, the VA MISSION Act will refer many veterans out to the new Community Care Network. One of the main Wilkie / Stone talking points about this change is ‘convenience’ and the idea that more veterans will be cared for more quickly (a claim unlikely to occur given that the VA overall has the same or better wait times than the private sector).
The Veterans’ Healthcare Policy Institute has many concerns about the move – regarding the quality of private sector providers, an already stressed (and often broken) private sector healthcare system, and unscrupulous profiteers that will take advantage of veterans to make a buck off the U.S. Government.
But, moving all of that to the side, there is one quality that is fairly unmeasurable: The loss of a healthcare space designed specifically for veterans and often manned by veterans themselves.
We have both used private care and the VA for our health care. When you walk into a VA hospital, you’re surrounded by people who share and understand your experiences and where you’re coming from – regardless if you’ve served in combat zones or spent your career stateside. When you walk into a private sector healthcare provider, you often have to fill out the same forms over and over, even if you’ve been a patient there forever – just another body waiting a couple hours for that prized 15 minutes with a doctor.
Most Americans cannot comprehend what it means to serve their nation in uniform. There are unique sacrifices required of us that have taken a toll on us physically and mentally. It’s hard enough to talk about it with veterans who share our experiences. It’s nearly impossible to do it with people who have never served.
So, when you walk into a VA facility it’s more than just walking into a CVS MinuteClinic. You work with providers that understand that, “well, Agent Orange exposure is linked with diabetes” or a number of other conditions that requires a special diagnosis and treatment. Then, instead of battling with an insurance company to find a specialist, the VA will coordinate the care for you – often with a provider in the same facility.
To top it off, you’re surrounded by veterans who you can commiserate with about those toxic exposures and wounds of war. Veterans who are peer support specialists and VA staff are trained to recognize symptoms of crisis in veterans. When they do, veterans can step just down the hallway to talk to someone who is skilled in veterans’ mental health care.
The many recent stories about veterans taking their life at VA facilities are no doubt tragic. But in fact on-campus suicides are actually decreasing while suicides by veterans who do not use VA care is rising. We hope Trump VA Administration officials have properly vetted and educated the Community Care Network partners in recognizing a veteran in crisis and evidence-based care to care for them.
So as veterans begin to be referred outside the halls of the VA on June 6, it’s important to remember: The Veterans Health Administration is a system that cannot be replicated or replaced by the private sector.
About the Authors
Paul Cox is the VHPI President. He is also a Marine veteran, who served from 1968-1972, with 18 months in Vietnam as an infantryman.
Lou Kern is the VHPI Secretary-Treasurer. He is a Vietnam combat veteran. He was at the Siege of Khe Sahn and he ran deep recon patrols with 3rd Force Recon Co, USMC.