For many years, we have heard that the Veterans Administration medical system is broken. For about the past two to three years, I have...

For many years, we have heard that the Veterans Administration medical system is broken.

For about the past two to three years, I have been helping a veteran get to his doctor’s appointments at the VA hospital. I feel like I have an idea of how this system works and thought that I would share my VA experience.

No system is perfect and ways to improve processes should be sought. Keep in mind, I am sharing this from a caregiver’s perspective. Everything that we do takes time to figure things out. I do not offer solutions, but would like to share what I have learned.

Enough parking places for the number of cars that go to the VA has always been an issue. The new parking deck was too small the day it became operational. Our solution is to use valet parking whenever possible. The person I take to the VA needs a wheelchair, so parking a distance away is never an option. We have found that the best time to utilize valet parking is at 7 a.m., the time when they begin parking cars. When leaving the VA, I have found it most effective for me to turn in the ticket, get the keys and go retrieve the vehicle myself.

Once inside, we usually have time to get some breakfast. The cafeteria was moved for a time, but is a quick in and out. The food is good, as is the variety of choices. After a good breakfast, you must know the location of the clinic that you are headed to. There are three main sets of elevators, and you will definitely know if you have chosen the wrong one.

Checking in at a clinic usually goes smoothly, whether speaking with someone at the desk or utilizing the kiosk. Most of the waiting areas in these clinics are going to be full of people. I have learned why veterans like going to the VA for medical care: they love to talk about their military experiences with other veterans. You can learn a lot of history by listening to these folks.

The doctors, nurses and administrative staff are some of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. I can say this because I have met many of them. Some know me better than others and are willing to listen to my thoughts or findings. In this veteran’s case, it is much better for him to be seen in the ER at the VA than it is to go to a hospital outside of the VA. Speaking about seeking services from outside of the VA, one problem that has existed forever is getting an outside entity to talk with the VA and vice versa where medical records are concerned. In other words, the transfer of information is difficult at best.

I have become well-versed in hospital discharge procedures. First thing to remember, take a wheelchair because you will need it! While the nurse is getting the patient ready for discharge, if prescriptions are needed, then you take the discharge papers and the veteran’s ID to the pharmacy. Once this is in order, you go back and hope that the person being discharged is ready. I have had some veterans call me to pick them up only to find IVs still in place and the patient still on a heart monitor when I arrive.

One other VA experience that I encounter deals with medications. I help this veteran by pulling his daily meds. I am assuming that medicines are dispensed from the VA pharmacy based upon the medicines in stock. This gets tricky when pills have to be cut in half, and then a new prescription may come with the same prescribed dose but come in a different milligram per pill. What do people do when they have no one to help them? There are times that I get confused if I am distracted.

The VA hospital used to be a place where I took patients on an ambulance and transferred medical care to the ER staff with no follow up or long periods of interaction. My situation today is completely different. I have had to learn how this system works, including which elevators get me where I need to be the quickest.

I think veterans in Richmond and the surrounding area are getting good care. No system is perfect.