Advocacy for Veterans within the Veterans Health Administration

Linda S. Kinsinger, Joan Van Riper, Kristy Straits-Tröster
2009 North Carolina Medical Journal  
ur nation's 23.4 million Veterans are a special population with a unique set of experiences and needs. About 5.5 million Veterans receive part or all of their health care within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) health care system. Traditionally Veterans seen at VHA facilities have been older, poorer, and sicker (more physical and mental health diagnoses), compared with the general US population. 1 The ongoing conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan, termed Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and
more » ... reedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), have added new Veterans to VHA's roles. These Veterans are, on average, younger but many suffer from multiple complex physical and mental health problems, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), amputations, burns, combat stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Advocacy for individual patients trying to navigate health systems when they are ill is important in any health care system, no matter how good. Advocates have been a particularly effective way to protect and improve health care for both older and younger Veterans-Veterans who may be suffering from a variety of physical and emotional conditions and who have to negotiate often difficult paths within a large federal organization. Veterans' advocacy efforts are provided by a range of organizations that include governmental agencies at the local, state, and federal level and nongovernmental groups, such as the broad array of Veterans' service organizations (i.e., American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, and many others). All these groups advocate for Veterans to ensure that they receive needed services and eligible benefits in a high quality, efficient, and timely manner. This commentary focuses on the clinical advocacy efforts being provided at the federal level within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), part of the cabinetlevel Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and will also describe activities at the state level within North Carolina. VHA is the largest integrated health care organization in the United States; in fiscal year 2008, it had 153 medical facilities and over 1,400 other sites of care, including communitybased outpatient clinics, community living centers, Veterans Centers, and residential rehabilitation treatment programs. 2 VHA's mission is to honor America's Veterans by providing exceptional health care that improves their health and well-being. Along with providing primary and specialty medical care for all eligible Veterans, VHA offers a range of specialized programs that provide advocacy and care for specific groups of Veterans, such as female Veterans, homeless Veterans, those needing blindness rehabilitation, those needing readjustment counseling, and those at risk for suicide.
doi:10.18043/ncm.70.2.159 fatcat:x4knnb5eyjfqdiyrb6bz6katje