By Debbie Gregory.
In recent years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has received an outpouring of negative attention. The media relentlessly covers the department’s downfalls, caused in part by the rush of thousands of injured veterans who require care after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A 2013 Congressional Research Service report notes that among service members deployed to these regions, 103,792 were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and 253,330 were diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury. Thousands more suffered more visible wounds that resulted in amputations and major surgery.
The backlog of disability claims, the unpaid injured veterans, the problems that plague individual VA Medical Centers across the country are well documented. What is not often spoken of is their successes. Despite the VA’s struggles, there are things that this department does better than any civilian-operated hospital or HMO. Here is a quick look at what the VA does well:
- Prosthetics – Congress’ report says 991 service members received wounds in Iraq that required amputations. In Afghanistan, another 724 veterans underwent amputations as a result of combat wounds. The VA is expert at providing prosthetic limbs that fit the lifestyle of military veterans. Many civilian insurance plans cover only the basic prosthetic limb, with a cap cost of $5,000 or less. The VA provides specialty legs that veterans can use while running or doing CrossFit exercises, which can cost upwards of $30,000. Veterans also receive adaptive equipment and a clothing allowance.
- Service dogs – The VA covers the veterinary care for service dogs of blind and hearing-impaired veterans.
- Transportation – Eligible veterans who live in rural areas may be reimbursed the mileage they log to travel to the VA for certain appointments, at a rate of 41.5 cents per mile. Veterans who cannot drive may be eligible for transportation via ambulance or wheelchair van.
- Rural health care – The VA knows many of their patients are stuck in rural areas, far from the nearest VA center. These veterans do not have the same access to healthcare as those who live closer. Rather than give the veterans the duty of finding a way into town, the VA is trying to find a way to come to them. Officials are opening Community-Based Outpatient Clinics and sending mobile medical units into small towns and rural communities to give veterans there better access to health care. The VA is also expanding telemedicine technologies allowing veterans to work remotely with their doctors rather than travel long distances.
- Free care for OIF/OEF veterans — All OIF/OEF/OND veterans receive five years of free health care after they leave active duty. After that time period, there may be a co-pay depending on the veteran’s income.
It is easy to focus on the difficulties that the VA is experiencing as they care for each new wave of injured veterans who arrive home. However, their policies and programs can be and are just as substantial as any military or civilian facility if you take time to look beyond the difficulties.