The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System is just one option open to veterans. Health care is a choice, after all, and while the VA Healthcare System is the health care service of choice for many veterans, others have never applied for this benefit. And some, for personal reasons, choose not to use the services provided by the VA at all.
Health center staff at your institution might want to consider including a question on intake forms which simply states, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the United States Armed Forces?” which will help flag staff on students in need of veterans-specific health care services.
Due to the increasing numbers of veterans on campus, it will be important for the health center to be connected to the services at the local VA Medical Center, the local Vets Center, and other community health care providers specializing in veterans’ health care. This is not for the purpose of referring a patient out of the university health care system, but more for collaboration, training and, if necessary, referrals.
Consider the following suggestions to ensure your campus health center is “veteran friendly”:
- Display materials in your office about the campus and community health services available to veterans, including material from the VA. Some Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veterans are unaware that they can receive cost-free medical care for any condition related to their service in the Iraq/Afghanistan theater for five years after the date of their discharge or release.
- Invite veterans’ health care providers to campus for a “meet and greet.” Inquire about staff training on military cultural competence for health care providers. When you consider that less than one percent of the population has served in the Armed Forces since 9/11, being able to understand, respect, and appreciate military service, especially with a health care lens, is very important.
- Communicate regularly with VA representatives to be sure center staff are up-to-date on potential emergency and non-emergency referrals to a local VA hospital.
- Download and use the Military Health-History pocket card, which details unique health risks, issues of concern, and general questions to help staff help a veteran feel at ease.