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Founder Edward C. Reese,
NCCS, USN, Retired

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Article from Gemma Reader

Accessing Health Care as a Veteran

Many veterans who serve overseas find it difficult to adjust to life once they return home from active duty. It can be difficult to find work, to access health care, and simply to receive the support they need to make that crucial adjustment. Because men and women who spend time in active service are more likely than the general population to suffer from certain health conditions—in particular mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression—it's vital that all veterans are able to access the health care they need. Unfortunately, it's not always as easy as it should be for veterans who need this important support service.

The Veteran's Affairs Medical Benefits Package

The VA's health care package is comprehensive, with a full range of hospital-based services, including mental as well as physical care, emergency care, and specialist services for diagnostic, treatment, and preventative purposes. Of special importance for many of today's veterans—due to the prevalence of PTSD and other disorders in veterans who serve in Iraq or Afghanistan—is the inclusion of mental health care services. Specialty outpatient and inpatient mental health care services are available at VA medical centers and outpatient clinics.

It's Not Always Easy for Veterans to Access Health Care

According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 55% of veterans say they find it hard to access the health care they need, and 60% of veterans are less confident in the ability of the VA to provide them with the health care they need. These statistics come in the wake of allegations of severe mishandling of health care records and applications, held at the VA's national enrollment center in Atlanta. The new online application system that was introduced in 2010 promised veterans an easy way to apply for health care benefits, but what ended up happening was exactly the opposite. In just a few years the system had created a massive backlog of unprocessed applications. Up to 10,000 applications may have been removed from the system without even making it to the processing stage, and to make matters worse, it's believed that more than 47,000 veterans died while waiting for their applications to be processed.

According to new estimates, as many as 900,000 veterans have pending applications for VA health care, and up to a third of those applicants may be deceased. The applications aren't all recent—the backlog extends back to the 1990s, and while the online application problems have swelled the ranks of veterans who haven't been able to access health care, this issue clearly isn't a new one.           

In 2015 the VA has been in the process of contacting veterans by mail to ask for document submissions, but currently around 13% of veterans have been waiting five years or more for a decision on their applications.    

Closing the Health Care Gap   

As a result of the extensive problems caused by the online application system—and the immense backlog of applications in the system—the VA has pledged to make extensive changes intended to reform the system and make health care easier for veterans to access. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, passed in August 2014, provided VA with additional resources for hiring more clinical staff, including doctors and nurses, and to expand premises in key locations; however, it's going to take some time before these changes can be implemented. However, given than hundreds of thousands of veterans may be waiting for health care applications to be processed and approved, there's still a lot more that must be done for the system to work.

Additional Information

Anjali Shastry (September 2015). More than 300,000 Dead Vets Still on VA's Active Health Care Enrollment List. Accessed September 3, 2015.   

DAV  ( March  2015).  Veterans Health Care Access and Reform of the VA Health Care System: Where we Stand and the Road Ahead.  Accessed September 3, 2015.   

Brad Schrade (September 2015). Report: Veteran Records Mismanaged at Atlanta Office. Accessed September 3, 2015.  

Gallop (July 2014). Majority of US Veterans Say Access to VA Care Difficult. Accessed September 3,2015.   

Psych Guides. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Effects. Accessed September 3, 2015.  

RAND Corporation. Invisible Wounds of War. Accessed September 3, 2015.    

US Department of Veterans Affairs. 

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Last updated 6 June 2012
Founded by Edward C. Reese, NCCS, USN Retired