Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans, with nearly half a million Vietnam-era veterans and more than 150,000 women veterans.[1] Although veterans may receive free or low-cost health care at government-run VA facilities, there are pros and cons for seniors receiving medical care solely through a VA facility. It is helpful for families to be aware of the issues that may arise.

On a national level, long wait times for appointments have been an ongoing problem although the Veteran’s Choice program has provided more options for veterans who qualify. Veteran’s Choice allows veterans to receive care from a private medical facility if wait times are excessive, if the nearest VA facility is too far away, or if traveling to the nearest VA facility presents an excessive burden to the individual owing to his/her medical condition, environmental factors, or other specific clinical reasons.

Another issue is the backlog in disability claims and disability claims appeals. Some veterans and their families may wait for three to seven years for rulings on their appeals, a frustrating process that sometimes causes people to simply give up.

A potential pitfall for seniors is the shortage of doctors and other medical staff in the VA system. Recruitment and retention of highly trained and qualified physicians has been hampered by the lower rates of pay that VA doctors receive compared to doctors in the private sector. The highest vacancies are in psychiatry and primary care. For seniors whose only doctor is a VA physician, staff shortages and turnover can present problems with regard to care coordination.

Families should also be aware that some VA facilities do not have large storage capacity for prescription medications. VA prescription refills can be obtained online, by phone or by mail. The VA will fill prescriptions prescribed by a non-VA provider under certain conditions, although a VA doctor is not obligated to prescribe a medication recommended by a non-VA doctor.

Resources:

VA Geriatrics and Extended Care Services

Florida State Veterans’ Homes

[1] https://floridavets.org/