A quick stick of the needle and a little bit of paperwork could do a lot of good for roughly 13,000 veterans in the Inland Northwest this fall.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is vastly expanding the health care services it offers veterans. But to deliver on the new services, the VA needs former soldiers, sailors and fliers to fill out an 18-question form.
“This is probably the most important change that has taken place in the VA in the past 25 years,” said Gus Fabbe, chief of health care administration at the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The hospital is offering free flu shots at area malls over the next two weekends. Veterans can get a shot, sign a sheet and register for the expanded health care.
Currently, veterans can’t get all the health care they may need. An ex-soldier whose hand was injured during active duty can have surgery but not mental health counseling. He also can’t get a needed knee brace unless it’s associated with the surgery.
Under the new system, the same veteran would just have to be registered to get into a mental health clinic. He also could get a knee brace if a physician prescribed it, Fabbe said.
Not only should the change offer veterans more health care, but it also should reduce the amount of paperwork the current “cumbersome and complex” system generates, he said.
In Fabbe’s office, there are five shelves of notebooks explaining the loops and tangles of the current system.
One notebook should replace all of them, Fabbe said.
Health care benefits also will be expanded for veterans who have no injury or illness from their active-duty days. As long as their income is below about $25,000 a year, such veterans will be able to get annual doctor visits or prosthetic devices on a physician’s recommendation - things unavailable under the current system.
The Veteran’s Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 is driving the changes in the nation’s largest hospital system.
But veterans won’t get the increased care if they don’t sign up.
“It is important for veterans to sign up, in the long run they will gain,” said Jim Howarth, with the American Ex-POWs in Spokane.
Despite the expansion in services, the VA hopes the change won’t cost any more money, Fabbe said.
The current system is so complicated the VA spends a lot of money just to administer it, Fabbe said.
Under the new system “a vet is either enrolled or not enrolled,” he said. “It’s going to make my job a lot simpler.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHERE TO ENROLL Veterans can enroll in the new system by calling patient information at the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center at 327-0252 or by writing Patient Administration, VA Medical Center, 4815 N. Assembly, Spokane 99205. On Nov. 1 and 2, a VA mobile clinic will be at the Spokane Valley Mall from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., giving free flu shots to veterans and registering them. The mobile clinic will be at NorthTown Mall on Nov. 8 and 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.