While defending the country abroad, military personnel rely on each other to stay safe. After their service, that responsibility is carried by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), a subdivision of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Today, more than 9 million veterans are enrolled in the VHA healthcare program, the largest healthcare system in the U.S. Patients are seen at nearly 1,300 facilities nationwide as well as through the VHA’s telehealth program, which provides care to those living in remote, rural areas. Facilities offer comprehensive services from surgery, radiology and physical therapy to dermatology, speech pathology and prosthetics.
In 2020, only 5% of vets would rate their overall health as “excellent.” Veterans are at higher risk than civilians for major health issues including cancer, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury and musculoskeletal and joint injuries. Nearly one-third of vets from the Iraq and Afghan wars have a mental health condition as a result of their service; of that population, only 30% receive the help they need. Suicide also continues to be a serious problem. A 2020 survey found that 10% of vets considered suicide prior to joining the military—after joining, that number jumped to 44%.
A 2011 study found that mental healthcare provided by the VHA is as good as, or better than that of the private sector. More than 1,600 additional mental health practitioners were added in 2013 to meet the growing need, and the budget for mental health services rose 54% from 2009 to reach $6.8 billion in 2014. In 2010, requirements for proving a need for mental healthcare were relaxed, making it easier for millions of vets to get the help they need.
With the arrival of COVID-19, VHA employees found themselves on the frontline of a different kind of war. Workers put themselves at risk to continue to serve vets, some even putting off retirement. In December 2020, more than 1,400 VHA healthcare workers had active COVID-19 cases and 87 had died due to the virus. Centers have made efforts to protect these workers, both from the virus and from burnout, by making sure they have adequate protective gear, providing in-house childcare and ensuring all essential workers are able to get vaccinated.
In addition to doctors, nurses, dentists, radiologists, surgeons, therapists and other healthcare professionals, VHA centers employee patient advocates. These trained professionals are there to support patients and their family and friends by acting as a facilitator between them and the center’s staff.
The VHA is known for its high quality of care, particularly when it comes to chronic conditions and cancer screening, and more than half of vets would rate their healthcare a 9 or 10, with 10 being the best. The agency’s shift to using technology has also kept the quality of care at a high standard; thanks to its digital system, patient data can be shared among all the VHA’s facilities.
With nearly 17.5 million vets in 2019, the rising cost of healthcare and the importance of mental health, the services of the VHA are important to giving back to those who served by providing them with the medical attention they need and deserve.
Article authored by and containing the opinions of Starr Wright USA. This article is offered solely for informational purposes.
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