Nashville Tennessee Veterans HospitalCredit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairsment

Are you a United States Armed Forces veteran and in need of medical care coverage or additional coverage beyond the civilian sector or even beyond TRICARE? Do you use the veterans medical care system? For those of you United States citizens, the Veterans Affairs medical care program meets and exceeds the national “Affordable Health Care Act” aka “ObamaCare” requirements. Therefore, if you are a U.S. Armed Forces veteran with other than a dishonorable discharge, (in other words you have an Honorable Discharge or General Discharge) and you don’t have medical insurance, you are really missing out on something special.

After retiring from the U.S. Army I made my way to the local Veterans Affairs (also known as the Veterans Administration or VA) medical facility.[1] I admit it, I resisted for a while. I did not register for VA medical care immediately after retiring. I already have retiree TRICARE (military medical care insurance) so I thought why I should bother with the VA? I heard all the horror stories and had always thought that the VA was for “really old” veterans and veterans that had lost limbs and had serious mental health problems (PTSD). In fact, the only reason I did show up at a VA clinic was because I received a letter one day inviting me to a new VA clinic. The letter said that my name came up in the VA search for veterans that had not filed for benefits. So, since I wasn’t doing anything else that day, I stopped in at the new clinic. One of the ten best things I’ve ever done for myself. I was having problems with a few medical issues that I had tried to ignore or work through. The VA, even without my having registered yet, since I did have my DD214 and military retiree ID card, gave me the once-over physical and survey of my aches and pains as well as mental health questionnaire. 

Wake Up Call

Wow, after they were done with me on that first visit, they noted several things that fell within the service-connected category of care putting me in a high priority care category. And once I was finally registered and after several medical exams and assessments, I was full registered and given my care priority rating. It does take time – at the time it seemed to take too long. Yet, after being in their system for the past several years, it’s understandable. The VA has been flooded with returning veterans from all the many deployments: Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Africa, and many others. And those numbers don’t include my year group and earlier: the Persian Gulf vets, the Vietnam, Korea, and World War II vets.     

Marine Vietnam veteran embraces Staff Sgt. Tim ChambersCredit: Cpl. Scott Schmidt

This is not just for retirees; in most cases the veteran is not a retiree but a former service member that has completed their term(s) of service. It’s a good deal. Even if your illness or injury is not service-connected you can get medical care as long as you accept the co-pay fees or you have other insurance that can help the VA defray costs. All veterans are encouraged to enroll in the system in order to ensure that they receive medical care for any condition that they have to live with after their time in uniform has ended.


Ignore all the bad press. Most of it comes from disgruntled employees or disappointed veterans, former service members that don’t meet the veteran status requirements or anyone that did not get what they wanted when they wanted it. The VA does use a priority system to schedule folks for care. Let’s face it: everyone can’t be first in line for treatment. Generally, if you have illness(s) or injury(ies) that are determined by the VA to be service-connected, meaning they were caused or aggravated by military service, you will sit higher on the priority list than someone with no or minor issues. Treatment for combat related injures will be prioritized ahead of non-combat injuries. I’m sure my fellow veterans can understand and appreciate that prioritizing system. However, occasionally a veteran might not accept having to wait a little longer than another veteran – it happens. When you feel really sick – you always feel like you should be the priority. 


When it’s an emergency, they do recommend that you go to the closest emergency hospital room. That’s why it is best if you do have two medical care plans. But if you don’t, and you have to go to a local emergency room, and you are a registered VA patient, you have to tell the civilian hospital that when you come in for an emergency (not routine sniffles). The hospital or you have to contact the VA at the earliest opportunity to let them know where you are being treated and the VA will make a determination as to whether you must be transferred to a VA facility or remain in the civilian/private care facility.

The VA hospitals have their own emergency care facilities, but I would not call their emergency care – speedy and timely. You can find yourself sitting for a long time if you are a walk-in. You will be triaged to determine if you are having a real emergency or just not feeling well. The VA facilities are not really manned sufficiently to handle walk-in feeling sniffles and coughing kind of stuff. If that’s your situation then call the number they give you for your VA physician or nurse and they will try and help you. When I’ve been lucky, they’ve had openings for me to come in that day or the next – or in one case, after describing my symptoms they just called in a prescription for me at the pharmacy and all I had to do is go over and pick it up. Everything was done over the phone.      

Be Kind and Respectful

Don’t forget that some of the VA employees are military veterans. I know that sometimes patient-veterans either forget that or are unaware of that fact. When we are sick or in pain, we can get a little bit self-serving and forget that the VA employee, medical technician or doctor is also a veteran, veteran’s family member, or a current member of the Armed Forces Reserves. The VA is short staffed; they are limited by the budget they are given by congress; they have no control over the laws that dictate what they can do and can’t do; AND they do the best that they can do with what they have.

No, I’m not an employee of the VA. I am a very grateful veteran and VA patient.