Q&A: How veterans get VA health care


When you sign up for VA health care, you become part of the country’s largest integrated health care system with more than 1,200 care locations serving nearly 9 million veterans each year.

Where do I go for care?

You’ll receive regular care at one VA location of your choice. If you need specialized medical treatments and services, the VA may refer you to other locations as well. Your health care team will use our electronic medical record system to coordinate your care no matter where you are.

Care settings may include:

• VA medical centers. These centers offer a range of services.

All centers provide traditional hospital-based services like surgery, critical care, mental health and physical therapy. Most centers provide medical and surgical specialty services like oncology (cancer care), geriatrics (elder care) and neurology (care for conditions of the brain and nervous system). Some medical centers also offer advanced services like organ transplants and plastic surgery (reconstructing or repairing parts of the body in the treatment of traumatic injury).

Through VA’s specialty care services, you have access to expert knowledge to optimize treatment in unique or complicated courses of care. VA specialty care providers focus on particular areas of care in which they have extensive training and education.

• VA community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs). These clinics provide the most common outpatient services (like health and wellness visits) so you can take care of routine appointments in a more convenient location. We keep expanding our network of CBOCs to more rural locations so we can help you access care closer to home.

• Vet Centers. These centers provide community-based counseling, outreach, and referral services to veterans who served in a combat zone as well as to their families. Mobile Vet Centers also help bring care to more rural locations. Vet Centers provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling to eligible veterans, active duty service members, including National Guard and Reserve components, and their families. Readjustment counseling is offered to make a successful transition from military to civilian life or after a traumatic event experienced in the military. Individual, group, marriage, and family counseling is offered in addition to referral and connection to other VA or community benefits and services. Vet Center counselors and outreach staff, many of whom are veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief, and transition after trauma.

• VA Community Living Centers and other assisted living or residential (live-in) settings. These places provide support for Veterans who need more intense nursing care and help with everyday tasks (like bathing, dressing, or taking medicines).

• Your own home. If needed, you may get medical treatment, nursing care, or help with everyday tasks in the comfort of your own home.

What if the nearest VA location can’t provide the services I need?

If you’re enrolled in VA health care, you may be able to receive care from a provider in your local community through community care.

Where do I get care if I live in a rural area, far from a VA medical center?

You may be able to receive care from one of the following:

• At a VA outpatient clinic.

• At a mobile Vet Center.

• In your own home: Skilled home health care providers; Remote telehealth services.

• From a provider in your local community.

Where should I go for care in an emergency?

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You don’t have to contact the VA in advance. (Note: The VA considers an emergency to be a condition that a reasonable person believes will put your health or life at risk if you don’t get treatment right away.)

If you’re far from a VA medical center, VA may pay for emergency care in a non-VA setting. Be sure to contact your nearest VA medical center as soon as possible, and ask to talk to the patient transfer or patient administration representative. Payment for emergency care in a non-VA setting ends when a VA provider concludes that you’re stable enough to be transferred to a VA medical center. For more information, call your local VA medical center’s enrollment coordinator.

What should I do if I move?

Let VA know right away so they can help set up care in your new location. To change your address, call us at 877-222-VETS (877-222-8387), Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. If you’re moving outside the U.S., you’ll need to sign up for our Foreign Medical Program. Through this program, VA will pay for certain needed health care services received in foreign countries to treat a service-connected disability or a disability that’s making a service-connected condition worse.

What if I need care while traveling?

Let VA know in advance so we can plan for your care at a VA location near where you’ll be staying. Please give them at least four to six weeks notice if you can.

Please give your VA care team:

• Your travel destination(s) and temporary address

• A telephone number where we can reach you while you’re away

• Your arrival and departure dates

• Any specific care concerns

VA can also mail prescription refills to you at your temporary address. Just be sure to allow about two weeks for the refills to arrive.

For more information, contact your care team or the traveling veteran coordinator at your local VA medical center.

Note: If you’re planning to travel outside the U.S., you’ll need to sign up for our Foreign Medical Program.

How do I schedule an appointment?

You can schedule VA health care appointments by phone or through their online scheduling tool.

Can the VA help me get to and from appointments?

Yes, VA may be able to help you get to and from appointments in certain cases. Or, they may pay you back for the cost of transportation if you qualify for help.

Can the VA help me cover travel expenses if I need to travel for care?

Yes, VA may be able to help with travel expenses if you need to travel for care.

What if I need care quickly, but it is not a life-threatening emergency?

You can get care right away for minor injuries and illness, like pink eye or ear infections, at urgent care facilities or walk-in retail health clinics that are part of our community provider network. To use these services, you’ll need to enrolled in VA health care and have received care from us within the past 24 months.


By Harold B. Wolford

Veterans Corner

Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at [email protected].

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