Many veterans from various branches of the service eventually leave the military and go on to lead lives in the civilian sector, while others may choose the military as a career. Whether by choice, or by necessity, some of these servicemen and women will receive their health care through the VHA system. Over the years, many changes have made this system better and more efficient, and through a network of hospitals, outpatient clinics and community-based clinics, offer services to suit each veteran’s needs.
If you choose to enroll in the VHA health care system, your eligibility for services may be dependent on a number of factors including your length of service, your discharge status, what service-connected disabilities you might have, your income level, etc. Once your enrollment is complete, you will be assigned to a primary care team, and an appointment will be scheduled within 30 days.
The medical staff on your Primary Care team consists of a physician, a registered nurse and a clerk. Physicians working within the VHA system are encouraged to be certified in their area of expertise, meaning they have taken advanced training in a particular field. Registered nurses are also encouraged to have advanced degrees, and many hold a Bachelors Degree in Nursing, a Masters Degree and possibly even a Ph.D. Some VHA teams may include Licensed Practical Nurses or Licensed Vocational Nurses to assist the Registered Nurse. Many of the clerks have college degrees as well. By having a staff with advanced training and degrees, the VHA is better able to help veterans with complex medical issues.
On your initial visit, you will be asked to come for your appointment 20 to 30 minutes early. This is to expedite the check-in process and to allow the physician to have more time with you. When you come into the Primary Care area, you should check in with the reception desk. The reception desk will check you in and advise the team of your arrival. If you have waited more than 15 minutes, and your name has not been called, you should let the reception desk know. The reception desk can then follow-up with the team to determine the cause of the delay. You should bring with you any medications you are currently taking, as well as information on any adverse reactions to medications you have taken in the past. It is also recommended that you bring the names and addresses of any other physicians involved in your medical care and information on your medical history (including past surgeries and hospitalizations, illnesses for which you are currently being treated, allergies, etc.).
Once you are checked in, you will have your vital signs taken either by a volunteer or a nurse. You will then be taken to an examination room. The initial visit will normally take longer than follow-up visits, and the time needed to assess each individual may vary. If you are a first-time patient, your immunization history will be reviewed and brought up to date, if necessary. Baseline testing, including laboratory tests, x-rays or EKGs, will also be done at this time.
After this initial assessment is completed by a nurse, a physician will take additional information such as your branch of service, service duties, length of service, any service-connected disabilities and a health history. You will then receive a physical examination, and a plan will be established for how your health care will be managed. If medications will be ordered through the VHA, the physician will place the orders at this time, and it will take from 7 to 10 working days for medications to be delivered to your home.
At this point, you are ready to be discharged, and a clerk will confirm your contact information, insurance information and information on any other parties to whom the VHA can speak regarding your health care. If any further tests are to be scheduled, appointments will be made at this time. You will then have a photograph taken for a VHAID card, and be shown where laboratory and x-ray departments are located should further tests be required.