Best choice for vets: the VA
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
Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston.