Military Advantage

Attracted to Notion of Veterans Healthcare from Civilian Doctors


tom-phipottPhilpott’s Forum presents opinions, insights and questions from readers of  Tom’s weekly news column, Military Update.


This week readers react to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs plan to use civilian doctors to backstop veterans healthcare.

I have long thought veterans should get health care locally, from private physicians, rather than from a big VA facility in a city miles away. Having more VA doctors and medical personnel will not change that.

Give veterans a medical card that can be used at any medical institution and from any licensed physician. They would be seen quicker. Treatment would be more personal. And it wouldn’t require hours of travel or require an assist to get there. It also would cut down the fraud so prevalent in providing any government service.

With government care there is no incentive to be the best and efficiency is discouraged.



My employer cancelled our healthcare plans and used Obamacare as the excuse to save money.

I was automatically enrolled in the VA healthcare system because of a disability though I had never used it. So Obamacare was available to my wife but not me because I was in VA health system.

I would have paid for Obamacare if I were eligible. I’m assigned to the VA medical center in Wilmington, Del., about 70 miles away.

Give us enrolled vets the choice to use the Affordable Healthcare Act.

JAMES GOVAN Somers Point, N.J.


Give veterans a medical card and let them decide which doctor and hospital they prefer. Some vets only need secondary medical coverage and some only need their medicine covered.

Let the vet decide. DEBRA ROSA Via email


What’s wrong with veterans having outside medical help? We are not getting it through the VA.

I am a Vietnam veteran with a lot of heath problems. The short list includes heart problems (four stents); diabetes (VA can’t even afford all my needles, telling me I can re-use them a few times without worry of infection); a hernia the size of a softball, and post-traumatic stress disorder (with my VA doctor cutting my psych meds in half).

Is the VA more worried about us getting the help we need or about the cost of doing things right and fixing us?

The private sector will fix us; it’s what they do.

The downside of relying on the private sector is reimbursement. After my first heart attack it took VA two years to pay my medical bills.

If the VA is allowed to just sit on their hands, we will be dead soon enough and the problem will be solved.



I have been using only VA health care since 1972 while my wife used local civilian health care. I have never had any problem with access to VA primary care or surgery or the VA emergency room where waits are never longer than 30 minutes.

My wife used Shands Hospital with University of Florida’s College of Medicine and could only be admitted through its emergency room. This required a wait of at least two hours in a crowded area of sick, noisy and unclean people. And each visit always ended with some astronomical bills.

How can anyone say that dumping them into the Shands health system would benefit the veterans of North Florida?

If we stopped paying already overpaid top VA personnel bonuses, they would stop fudging the appointments system to make themselves look good.

I strongly feel the push to privatize veterans’ care is being driven by interests who want to rip off the VA as they do Medicare and Social Security.

FREDRIC P. Gainesville, Fla.


I am a veteran with many health care issues. The nearest VA hospital is an-hour-and-45 minutes away. The clinic does not take walk-ins and yet the wait for appointments is three months or more.

I had an emergency and went to a local hospital. I now have a bill for more than $5000 that I can't pay.

I am getting no local VA support. When I call the number to get cleared to go to a non-VA hospital, I’m told it can’t be done. My VA appointment was for August after having gone to the emergency room in June. Where is the care in that? I am looking for a civilian doctor locally so I don't have to deal with this.

Also I had a prescription the VA clinic would not fill because it was for narcotic. That's the new rule. It seems I could be a crack-head shopping for a doctor to get bonus drugs. Maybe I am in pain but no one at the clinic evaluated me for that.

The last thing is that I don't have a doctor at VA. I have nurse who likes to give her personal take on things. I need a doctor. And I have pain but nowhere to go to get it checked.

SHEILA M. Via email


I am a retired veteran with diabetes and nerve damage in my right foot. During my first visit to a nearby VA Medical Center I was issued a pair of diabetes shoes very quickly. After a year passed, I needed a new pair.

I was unsuccessful obtaining them from VA, for unknown reasons. I visited a private doctor and obtained a prescription for a new pair of diabetes shoes using Medicare and TRICARE for Life insurance.

I sent my prescription to a medical supplier several months ago. After multiple telephone calls that reassured me everything had been approved, I am still waiting for those shoes.

At this moment I have lost faith with both VA and Medicare. I can't get any results from either one. My foot is getting worse and it’s painful to walk in regular shoes. ANGEL ORTIZ Via email


I’m a prime example of how the VA still is not serving veterans adequately. I called for a dermatology appointment this morning for several growths I am concerned could be pre-cancerous. As I have been to dermatology before and can be seen on an “as needed” basis, I do not need to a new referral from my primary care provider.

Yet the earliest date the call center could provide an appointment is 80 days from now, and that’s only because I can go to a satellite clinic instead relying on the main San Diego VA Medical Center. So things have not changed. We are still shoved on the back burner!

Also consider my appointment at the San Diego VAMC neuromuscular clinic in July. The doctor requested I return in the usual 12 weeks for treatment. I have a chronic migraine condition that requires treatment within that period or the migraines get very mad.

On checking out, the clerk insisted the only appointments available were 16 weeks away. I explained I needed a 12-week appointment and was told there were none. So I sent a secure message through the website asking for outside care. Only then was I offered an appointment within 10 to 12 weeks and at any time. I even received an apology from the administrator.

My belief is it's the same old crap. VA clerks are not doing their jobs. Maybe they need triage nurses to figure out who needs appointments when. Why do clerks feel they have the right to overrule doctors on scheduling appointments? How do appointments suddenly open up? And why do doctors suddenly change appointments as they near so veterans can be put off for another month or two?

I get much of my care from civilian providers, as I don't trust the VA for many things. VA primary care is excellent, but I've had surgeries that were incomplete. Residents standing together told me everything went just as planned yet the same large kidney stone formation showed up later on x-rays and CT scans. A tumor in my head found in 2004, which the VA couldn’t arrange to have OR team remove, grew from the size of a pea to a golf ball in six months before I had a civilian neurosurgeon remove it.

Sadly, many vets have little to no trust in VA; that finally is coming to light. I suppose I'll see a civilian dermatologist now rather than allow these growths to fester – for another 80 days!



REMEMBERING DAD'S WAR On Memorial Day weekend this year, I noticed no mention of World War I on television stations I watched. Many died in that war too.

I mentioned this omission to a World War II retiree and felt his response inappropriate. He said if broadcasts mentioned WWI they would have to keep going and refer to even earlier wars.

My dad was in WWI. He was not wounded or killed; however several of his friends and acquaintances were.

Being the youngest of seven children I had the privilege, on many a night, of hearing my dad recall his WWI experiences and the hardships these men endured. When a friend on a long winter night visited, we always knew he wanted my dad to tell again of the war.

I never grew tired of him recalling those experiences.

JEANNE H. ALLEN Hampton, Va.

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Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families.

Visit Tom Philpott's Military Update Archive to view his past articles.

Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is

denied-105-158Tom's freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.

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