A VA Hospital to Be Proud Of


Not all VA hospitals are created equal. We are fortunate enough to live within fifteen minutes of the White River Junction (WRJ) VA facility in Vermont and it's top-notch.

Charlie began complaining of pain in his left shoulder last week. Within a day or so, he was having trouble raising his left arm. On Monday, I called the WRJ hospital for an appointment for him, and he was scheduled to see a practitioner the next day. He was seen promptly by a nurse practitioner, x-rayed and referred to physical therapy for treatment. They were unable to schedule him to begin therapy treatments until next week; hopefully by then his arm will have recovered and the treatments won't be necessary.

He also asked for (and was given) a walker that was specially fitted for his 6'2" frame; no papers to sign, no out-of-pocket expenses. The therapist even wheeled it to the car and loaded it in for our trip home. This walker will replace the one we borrowed from a friend when Charlie's mobility problems first exceeded the helpfulness of his cane.

The WRJ VA hospital has provided us with nothing less than stellar care since we moved to the area, five years ago. The doctors are outstanding and the nurses as good as any we have encountered at the nearby prestigious Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. The treatment here was a pleasant surprise after experiencing less than satisfactory service at facilities in New York and Florida.

The hospital was recently named the first VA hospital to have a PTSD treatment center, providing state of the art care for returning vets with mental health issues. The facility has a walk-in mental health clinic where vets can get immediate care if they are facing problems that need assistance, whether it is PTSD, drug and alcohol counseling, or other mental illnesses. The hospital has affiliations with the Geisel School of Medicine (Dartmouth College) and the University of Vermont, College of Medicine.

It wouldn't surprise me that this hospital will become an example of what all VA hospitals should be. Its biggest problem is that it is an aging facility—not the shiny new façade you see on the news in Phoenix, Arizona. But the care outshines the cracked walls and narrow corridors; it is the heart and expertise of the caregivers that make it such an outstanding example of what is expected of a VA hospital.

So it saddens me when I hear stories of vets turned away for no reason. My brother-in-law (US Navy and Coast Guard retiree) was recently refused care at a Florida VA hospital because he had first been seen at the vet's hospital in Buffalo. He lives in western New York in the summer, and spends the winter in Florida. He has had several melanomas removed and, when he went to the Florida facility to have a suspicious spot looked at, he was refused service.

WWII vets, what few are left, are happy to sit in the waiting rooms along side vets from Korea, Vietnam and returning Afghanistan vets, all knowing that they will get the very best of care here, in the little town of White River Junction, Vermont.

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For AgingCare.com, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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It's nice to read that a VA hospital did the right thing by its patients. Having been treated by four VA Medical Centers since leaving active duty, my experience has not been the horror stories reported in the press. Most Veterans Medical Administration employees are there to help veterans and really show it. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs and its subordinate agencies like the Veterans Medical Administration are part of the executive branch of the federal government, making them highly bureaucratic. And there are horror stories about bad care, long waits, etc that are for real, depending on the medical center and the treating doctor(s).

Unfortunately, your brother-in-law ran into the first bureaucratic hurtle. In order to seek care at a VA Medical Center, a veteran must "enroll" at that medical center for care first. If a veteran walks into an ER at a VA Medical Center, that center should enroll him on the spot but that may mean that he needs to have his DD-214 or discharge papers with him at that time. Otherwise for non-emergent care, the veteran will have to enroll, get an appointment with a primary care provider, then be referred to a specialist within that medical center or outside in the community by the PCP. It can take time. If your brother-in-law wants to seek care at the VA Medical Center near where he "snowbirds," he really needs to enroll there as well as at the medical center in Buffalo. The VA is smart enough to understand what's going on with two sets of doctors in the system and can share records electronically between them all.

Despite my experience, sometimes a veteran will get what he pays for in terms of free medical care from the VA. While the VA has never let us down, our outside team of doctors are the ones who really address the scary or potentially life threating conditions. For instance, if I would have listened to my VA primary care physician, I may not be here to type this right now.

There are significant benefits for the elderly veteran, though, through the VA as part of the overall medical team that can translate into additional help in the home for the caregiver, aid and assistance payments, etc. Our advice is to keep this as part of your team but maintain at least some medical care outside of the VA through your medical insurance to ensure that you receive the best care and maintain your care options. It can be a challenge to maintain two different sets of medical professionals, especially if your VA Medical Center is a bit of a drive from where you live. However, taking my father-in-law as an example, we would have had many more options for in-home care had we been able to get him back down to the VA Medical Center where he'd been seen years ago.

I can add another VA hospital to the list—East Orange, NJ. While it may be located in "not-the-best-area of" NJ, the care my dad has received there has been quite impressive. His prescriptions are also filled and shipped from East Orange.

Unfortunately, we live about 50 miles away, so it isn't exactly a convenient trip, so a visit to a specialist takes some planning ahead. For emergencies, our local Urgent Care Center has been wonderful (and they take Medicare). His physician is located at the VA clinic in Piscataway, NJ, which is also an excellent facility with good resources.

In addition, the myhealth.va.gov site is a great way to order prescription refills and keep in touch with Dad's PCP. All his health records are available at one click, and his medical team can refer to a centralized system to support his ongoing care.

I cannot even imagine the cost of his care and medication over the past year, had they not been provided by the VA. Since Dad is of modest means, this could all have negatively affected his physical and financial well-being in no small way. I am one insanely grateful daughter. Thank you VA.
i think the va's are a reflection of the skill and talent of the local workforce . indianapolis va is always a wonderful experience , ditto martinsville indiana satellite clinic .. i walked into martinsville clinic last friday with an ear infection concern and was seen on the spot by a nurse . 60 second wait in the waiting room ,..