For many of you, the following information will be basic and instinctive to you. We originally posted this in December, and scores of calls and emails are asking the same questions about how to navigate the medical or legislative system, and we thought the following guidance might be helpful.
What do I do when I need caregiver help?
If you are already in the National Caregiver Program, contact your Caregiver Support Coordinator (CSC) at your local VA medical center. If s/he is not in, ask for the alternate, and leave a voicemail. It’s a good idea to also follow-up with an email, and their email can usually be found through an Internet search. You can ask for the email address, and if it’s not forthcoming, ask who else can help you.
If you’re not in the Caregiver Program, you can still use the Caregiver Support Line and request help and guidance. If your issue is outside the responsibilities of the CSC, then ask who you should be directed to for problem resolution. It will likely be someone else in the Social Work Office.
What do I do when I need help with my Veteran’s medical care?
If you have already spoken with your primary care physician, or in the case of mental health, the psychologist, we suggest contacting various VA advocates. If your veteran is an OIF/OEF/OND veteran, there is a specific OIF/OEF Coordinator, whose name may be found with an Internet search, a VA website search, or by calling your local VA medical center. They are often able to cut through issues very simply for you.
If the issue relates to a disagreement over care or other conflict, you would contact the VA Patient Advocate at your local VA. This person may be found on the VA website, through an Internet search or by calling. If there is a formal report or complaint to make, ask for the proper forms and be sure to follow all the steps directed so that you will find resolution. You may need to be quite persistent, and you will need to judge the seriousness of your issue.
What do I do if I need help understanding VA process (paperwork, fee base, etc.)?
The Internet is an excellent source of information, but it may be a huge undertaking to find out the nugget of information needed. Obtain one of the VA Handbooks on Benefits (you can download it or obtain a hard copy at your local VA) to find out who to talk with for specific needs.
Why use a VSO?
We also highly recommend contacting one of the chartered Veterans Service Organizations (VSO’s) such as AmVets, Vietnam Vets of America, DAV, the Legion and others. You can find a list on the va.gov website. It is highly recommended that you use an organization to help you since VA benefits and processes change with the legislation and it can be a daunting task keeping up with the changes.
The importance of peers is...
Ask your fellow caregivers. Your peers often have great experiences to share, so post here, write to your friends, and seek out others locally who can provide you practical information. Seek out others while at the VA and absorb all you can; what you learn will either help you, or others in the future.
This is a starting point...
Linda Kreter & the VeteranCaregiver Team