Medical benefits from the VA

February 3, 2010 3:03:19 PM PST
So what happens when our service members return home? On Monday, President Barack Obama said Veterans Affairs would see an increase in his proposed 2011 budget. And last week, he stressed the need for better veterans care.But many vets still have a hard time getting access to health care and benefits.

Experts say the VA offers benefits on a priority basis, so everyone might not get immediate care. Many people say they are happy with their benefits and the service they receive. Others, however, are not.

"It's ridiculous," John Van Wyck said. "They don't do nothing."

Ask the Vietnam veteran about accessing his VA medical benefits, then prepare yourself for an earful.

"They've got people there who have never been involved in the military," he said. "They don't know what people went through. They just put things on desks and let it sit there. They don't seem to be personally involved."

The 59-year-old Van Wyck says his two years of service left him with hearing problems and persistent pain in his legs. But he says VA doctors rarely corroborate the findings and diagnoses of his private physicians.

"I gave the letter to them when they wanted to see me - the VA - and they stick me with toothpicks," he said. "They didn't give me an electrode test, they gave me toothpicks. 'You feel this? You feel that?' Yeah. That's it."

Attorney Felicia Pasculli can certainly understand that frustration. Sixteen years ago, she became a veterans law expert to help save clients from the nightmare experiences she encountered while fighting for her father's medical benefits. She says a culture change is needed at Veterans Affairs.

"You need to remind them they are in the business specifically to help veterans and to provide them with whatever care they need," she said.

The VA says it is doing just that. At the same time, the secretary of Veterans Affairs acknowledges a massive backlog in the number of disability claims. That's why his budget proposal this week asked for additional funding to hire 4,000 more claims processors.

"The VA continually looks on how to improve services to veterans, areas where they may be delays," said Joe Sledge, of the Northport VA Medical Center. "We try to address those as soon as possible.")

VA leaders and patient advocates say there are steps veterans should take to facilitate access to their benefits.

First and foremost, enroll with the VA as soon as you separate from active military service, whether you need medical care or not.

Secondly, find out what benefits are available to you.

Lastly, if medical care is slow, delayed or unsatisfactory, immediately notify VA staff and superiors.

"If there is not a satisfactory response, I would appreciate they contact me directly," Sledge said.

CLICK HERE for more from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.