Best choice for vets: the VA

Unique spe­cial­ity

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

Re­gard­ing “Congress must ex­pand health care choices for vet­er­ans” (Page A21, Oct. 6), as a pri­mary care doc­tor at Hous­ton’s Michael E. DeBakey VA Med­i­cal Cen­ter, I agree that ev­ery pa­tient should have ac­cess to ex­cel­lent and timely care. How­ever, mes­sag­ing about choice op­tions for vet­er­ans has led some to as­sume that the com­mu­nity-based care vet­er­ans re­ceive may be some­how su­pe­rior to Vet­er­ans Af­fairs cen­tered care — de­spite re­search stud­ies show­ing VAs pro­vide equal or bet­ter care than our pri­vate peers.

I re­cently saw a new pa­tient who was cared for by mul­ti­ple pri­vate physi­cians. After iden­ti­fy­ing a long his­tory of men­tal dis­tress com­pli­cat­ing many of his chronic con­cerns and rec­og­niz­ing that they were not equipped to ad­e­quately treat the pa­tient, these physi­cians re­ferred the vet­eran to a spe­cialty team: the VA.

As a VA doc­tor, I spe­cial­ize in vet­eran care. My team and I are skilled at screen­ing for men­tal and phys­i­cal dis­eases re­lated to ex­po­sures or in­juries dur­ing ser­vice. How­ever, be­ing a spe­cial­ist re­quires not only the right tools to di­ag­nose a dis­ease but also the re­sources to treat them.

In light of a re­cent study that shows vet­er­ans are 1.5 times more likely than non-vet­er­ans to com­mit sui­cide, I am proud that the VA has in­creased its focus on iden­ti­fy­ing and treat­ing at-risk vet­er­ans. I am also thank­ful that when I di­ag­nose se­vere de­pres­sion or de­bil­i­tat­ing Post Tra­matic Stress Dis­or­der, I have that team of spe­cial­ists one phone call away who can see the pa­tient that same day.

This in­te­grated pri­mary care and men­tal health model is a dream of pri­mary care doc­tors in the pri­vate sec­tor who know that men­tal and phys­i­cal health are fre­quently in­ter­con­nected but who rarely have ac­cess to the types of in­ter-pro­fes­sional teams and re­sources we be­lieve can save lives.

Sarah G. Can­dler, Hous­ton

File Photo

Michael E. DeBakey VA Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Hous­ton.

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