Q & A with Grand Junction Veterans Health Care System
Craig — On Thursday night, the Grand Junction Veterans Health Care System held a town hall meeting at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 in Craig. It was attended by representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s office and other veterans organizations and offered local vets a chance to get answers to questions about health care and other benefits.
The following are some of the questions anonymously asked by local vets, with answers provided by Paul Sweeney, chief of customer relations and public affairs for the VA Medical Center in Grand Junction.
Q: Why is it necessary to drive five hours to spend 10 minutes with the doctor?
A: While the Maj. William E. Adams Telehealth Clinic in Craig has reduced the necessity for a lot of our veterans to drive to Grand Junction, it isn’t suitable for every veteran. Some veterans have medical situations that are too complex or delicate to manage over the telehealth system, while other veterans are so uncomfortable using the telehealth system that their blood pressure goes up just sitting down in front of the camera. There are also particular medical conditions that must be managed face-to-face, even if it is for a relatively short visit.
On top of that, we are restricted by the law. We can open a telehealth clinic under our own authority as long as the numbers support establishing one, taking into account the number of veterans in the area, distance from the main facility, and the number of road hazards between the town and the main facility.
We can offer limited specialty care on-site on a recurring basis, but to put a primary care provider on-site, we have to get permission from Congress to open a Community Veterans Clinic (formerly called a Community Based Outreach Clinic). The requirements for this are much more stringent.
So, what’s the answer? One, to do our best to enroll more veterans in the region so that eventually we can justify opening a Community Veterans Clinic. Two, keep a close eye on developing telehealth technology so we can expand our services at the local level as new technology proves itself. And three, be inventive and stay flexible so we know when to make these moves.
Q: Why is an eye exam in Grand Junction, but the glasses come from California?
A: Because we do not have an in-house ophthalmology provider like many of the larger facilities, we currently contract out our eye exams and treatments at the local level. The contract is put out for bid every five years, but renewed on an annual basis.
The eye glasses themselves, however, are supplied under a national contract. After the exam, the prescriptions are sent into the national provider and then mailed to the veterans.
Q: Why can’t we have a doctor twice a week at the Craig clinic?
A: This goes back to our authority to establish telehealth clinics versus needing to go to Congress to establish a Community Veterans Clinic. While we can have some limited specialty care on-site at a telehealth clinic, a primary care provider — be it a doctor, physician assistant or a nurse practitioner — requires congressional approval.
Q: An eye doctor is needed in Craig — why can’t we have one? It would make it a lot easier than making an all-day trip to Grand Junction.
A: Right now, our current contract for eye care, to include surgeries, limits where we can send our veterans. This is an issue that has come up at nearly every town hall and veteran service officer meeting we have been at in the last year, so it has our attention and we are looking to see what our options are.
Q: Why do Purple Heart recipients get 100 percent coverage at the VA?
A: Simple question, long answer. Most veterans who qualify for VA health care through any of the three Gateways to Care qualify for 100 percent coverage “at the VA.” Two of the most common exceptions to this are veterans who have an Other Than Honorable Discharge from the military, but have rated service-connected disabilities. We can only see those veterans for the conditions that are service connected.
The other group is veterans who have a zero-percent-rated, service-connected disability, but don’t otherwise qualify for VA health care. These veterans can only be seen for VA health care.
A Purple Heart is one of the many ways a veteran can qualify for VA health care. Some qualifications do give the veteran a few more benefits, such as reduced or no co-pays.
The Gateways to Care are:
• Service Connected Disability: Any medical condition, physical or mental, connected to a veteran’s military service that negatively impacts his life today. Ratings are zero to 100 percent.
• Special Programs: Vietnam Boots on the Ground and Brown Water Navy, Camp Lejuene from 1953 to 1957, former Prisoner of War, Desert Storm from the beginning to Nov. 11, 1998, Purple Heart, recent combat veterans for five years after discharge, to name just a few.
• Income Threshold: This is based on the veterans “gross household” income, minus medical expenses, the zip code or county the veteran lives in and the number of dependents the veteran can claim.
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