Letter: Bill would fix shortfall in VA system


At the risk of taking up too much column space on a topic on which I have already voiced my opinion, I write again about the Veterans Health Care system. First, there is some good news. The House of Representatives has passed the Ensuring Veterans’ Smooth Transition Act, H.R. 4673. This bill would require the VA to enroll everyone leaving military service in the VA health care system.

Service members can choose to opt out or disenroll after the transfer is made. Before becoming law, the House bill must pass the Senate in the same or similar form. Getting veterans what they deserve with the least amount of hassle is a positive step. The VA system is currently overloaded but that is no reason not to move forward with H.R. 4673. It is an additional reason to fix the shortfalls in the current system.

VA health care offers primary care doctors, specialists, and inpatient treatment. Navigating the system can be confusing and overwhelming. If the process of getting military health records transferred to the VA health system is simplified, the first hurdle for receiving VA care becomes less stressful and timelier. Each option of care, primary, specialized, or surgical, comes with limitations, qualifying criteria, and characteristics unique to individuals. Once in the system, transportation, referrals, and communications are obstacles the veteran will need to learn to navigate.

As a novice to the system, it is daunting for newcomers to match their needs with services while trying to understand restrictions, options, or procedures. H.R. 4673, or a similar bill, would only remove the first obstacles to treatment. It gets you into the system, but it does not provide guidelines for using the system. The VA health care system needs to be updated. It should be easy to enter and use.

Many veterans enter the VA health system with conditions resulting from their military careers. This can be another nightmare experience for a veteran. Disability claims require support documentations, forms, interviews and medical appointments. These requirements are necessary, but can be a confusing and time consuming. All too often, veterans report that disability claims are first denied, then devalued, then deferred, and then discontinued. Rarely is the process described as simple, transparent, or straightforward. HR 4673 smooths the transfer of military medical records and enrolls veterans in the Veterans Health Care system. It does not address making the system more user friendly. Veterans need both.

In my 75 years, the military has been called upon to enforce U.S. policies many times. As crucial as planes, ships and weapons are, it is people that defend us. If you are about to become a veteran, watch what happens. We thank and honor veterans when we give them a health care system that respects their service. Approximately 13,000 veterans live on Whidbey Island according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. They merit our support.

Denise McHugh