Veteran's Affairs: exceeding expectations

Valerie Palacios

Valerie Palacios

2/4/2011 -- I didn't think much when I filled out a form at the Veteran's Affairs table during my attendance at a recent Army Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. But now, after my third appointment at the Veteran's Affairs Medical Center in less than a month, I am highly impressed by the service I received and very happy I stopped at that table to talk to the staff and receive help in filling out the benefits form.

Soldiers returning from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are required to attend these Yellow Ribbon events as a means of learning about the benefits and resources that are newly available to them. Even though I had just completed my second combat deployment, I had no idea what the VA had to offer.

Yellow Ribbon wasn't around after my first deployment. All of this type of information was thrown at us upon our return when we were more focused on the loved ones we were returning home to. There was no way we could have filtered through and retained all of it.

When I stopped by the VA table at the Yellow Ribbon event and filled out a VA Form 10-10EZ (Application for Health Benefits), I was impressed by the helpful staff, but I went home wondering how many months it would be before I heard anything about the progress of the form.

To my great surprise, I received a phone call just two weeks later, even though it was in the middle of the holiday season. The VA representative on the other line asked me when I would be available to go to my first doctor's appointment and to meet my combat veteran case manager.

My first and second appointments were set for the same day and I didn't have any idea what I was getting myself into. The only thing the representative told me was that because I just returned from deployment, the VA will do a complete physical and post-deployment evaluation.

I was okay with that. Who doesn't like the idea of free medical care? I didn't feel like I had anything to lose by simply going see a doctor. I figured they would check me out, tell me everything was okay and send me on my way. I had this idea that the VA only helped service members who became injured or sick during their time in service, like the old guys I used to see when my dad would take me along for his VA appointments. I didn't think I fit that category so I wasn't expecting much.

Even before my appointment started, I was impressed. I had never been to a doctor's appointment where you don't have to wait forever to be seen. At the VA clinic, a nurse immediately took me in for my basic assessment and I was sent straight to the doctor's office for my check up. Both the nurse and doctor were extremely patient and willing to answer all my questions. During my appointment, the doctor explained I have five years of cost-free health care, starting the date I was released from active duty. Since I already have another healthcare provider, the VA's healthcare can be my primary or alternate healthcare.

Right now, I'm also eligible for TriCare because it is offered for six months after release from active duty upon return from a deployment. Although I am signed up for TriCare, I'm already very pleased with the VA healthcare and plan to continue to use it instead.

There's just something wonderful about how the VA was so proactive in calling me to schedule visits, instead of me procrastinating and making my own appointments. Their attention to meeting their appointment times instead of having patients spend the majority of their time in the waiting area is stellar service. My appointment at the VA was the first time I didn't feel rushed through a doctor's visit. It was just a different experience than dealing with regular civilian medical facilities that try to see as many patients as possible in a short period of time.

At my first appointment, after my lab work was completed, I was off to meet my combat veteran case manager. He too, was very helpful and full of information. After this visit, I felt like I had this VA stuff down and if I find I need a little help in the future, I have access to all the people who could point me in the right direction.

It was only about a week after my first appointment that my lab results were in my mailbox, along with my next appointment, which was at the women's clinic. No work required on my part! This is great because I easily get lost juggling my full-time job, the Army Reserve and grad school. There is no way I have time for researching doctors and healthcare in this point in my life.

Another great thing about the VA Medical Center is that everything is located in the same facility. I began in my doctor's office, then moved on to another floor for my lab tests, then another for my case manager and the Women's Clinic is in the same building, too.

I was really amazed at all the care they can provide, especially as a female Veteran. The women's clinic offers comprehensive primary care as well as specialty care such as reproductive services, rehabilitation, mental health and treatment for military sexual trauma.

It really is nice to know the VA is really paying more attention to our female veterans and I definitely feel welcome and confident with the services they provide. I hope more female veterans take advantage of these services, or at least sign up for an initial appointment so they can learn more and see for themselves that the VA isn't just for older veterans like my dad.