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VA Maryland Health Care System


Spring 2017 Virtual Town Hall Recap - Q&A

The VA Maryland Health Care System hosted a Virtual Town Hall on Facebook on March 9, 2017. This method of interacting with local Veterans allows those who are homebound or unable to make an event in person the opportunity to pose questions and interact with representatives from the VA Maryland Health Care System, the Baltimore Regional Benefits Office, and the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs from home or wherever they are via a smartphone or device.

The following Q&A is a recap of the questions that were submitted prior to the town hall, and those that were posed during the town hall. (Questions that were received pertaining to personal benefits claims were omitted to protect Veteran privacy. The Baltimore Regional Benefits Office contacted these Veterans directly to discuss their claims.)

Q: Why is it that with all the fancy remodeling that has been done, nobody thought to install a paging system so that the people who come to get you for your appointment wouldn't have to scream over the crowd noise in the waiting area?

A: There are a few reasons why a provider – whether it’s a nurse or physician – will come to the front and greet a patient in person, rather than announcing a name over a paging system, including ensuring that the Veteran is personally guided to the proper room.

Q: Why is it that when I needed to reschedule my latest appointment with the Baltimore GI clinic the next date was for 3 months later?

A: Limited availability of appointments at the IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) Clinic is due to short staffing of gastroenterologists. We thank you for your understanding as efforts are being made to bring new physicians on board. Please keep in mind that any patient who is scheduled more than 30 days out is eligible to receive care in the community through the Choice program.

Q: While I receive most of my care through Kaiser, I was wondering if I could get prescription drugs from the VA that are not on Kaiser's formulary. Kaiser does not cover insulin pens. I do have a prescription from my doctor for the pens if I wanted to pay for them through an uncovered pharmacy. The drugs are Humalog and Lantis. Does the VA pay for these insulin pens? It would be so much more convenient to use the pens over the shots when I am traveling.

A: You will need to see a VA primary care provider, who will determine the need and if so, will then place a Non-formulary consult which has to be approved by the Clinical Pharmacy Specialist. If all agree then the prescription can be filled at the VA.

We received several questions regarding the Veterans Choice Program.

The Veterans Choice Program is always a topic of interest at our Town Halls. We received multiple questions this time around that we won’t share here in the interest of space. Veterans with specific concerns that could be addressed were contacted directly. The complex challenges of the Choice Program are a national concern. This was addressed during David Shulkin’s confirmation hearings, and now that he is VA Secretary, redesigning the Choice Program so that it works for veterans is among his top priorities.

Q: Why are my lab test results no longer being posted? A message posted last fall on the MyHealtheVet site states “we are updating your VA chemistry/Hematology information.” One of the top four on the VA Maryland leadership team was contacted regarding this in the fall of 2016 and promised to fix the problem. Although orders were given, no change occurred. Who and where is the authority that can address and fix this problem?

A: It is possible that the site was updating, but if you ever experience an issue with MyHealtheVet, please feel free to contact our My HealtheVet Coordinator, Intisar Hasaan, at 410-605-7045. If you get her voicemail, she will return your call within 24 hours. You can also call the National Help Desk at 1-877-327-0022.

Q: Why don't we ever receive any questionnaires regarding the proficiency of our doctors and the efficiency of our nurses?  I have been in the system approximately 17 years.

A: The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) sends surveys to a random number of Veteran patients each year.  The survey is called the Survey of Healthcare Experiences of Patients (SHEP), and is designed to capture our patients’ perceptions about their care.  The information we learn from these surveys drives process improvement at all levels of our organization.  Also, the VA Maryland HealthCare System conducts local assessments in Baltimore, Loch Raven, Perry Point, and some of our Community Based Outpatient Clinics.  Each workday, staff members visit with inpatients and primary care patients to obtain feedback.  This feedback is used to improve the care and services we provide to our patients.  Should you receive a SHEP survey in the mail or be approached by a local surveyor during a future visit, we encourage you to provide us with your feedback.

Comment: I have a comment not a question, for about three years now l have relied on VA for all of my health care. After hearing nothing but negativity and complaints towards the VA, I have to come to their defense.  Almost every Medical Professional that l have come in contact with at the VA has been dedicated, friendly, knowledgeable and seems to genuinely  care about the problems (medical or personal) of the Veterans. They have impossible caseloads, are often underfunded and so many of the Vets seem ungrateful for their sacrifices, as I am fairly sure that they would do much better in the private sector. I for one appreciate the VA and would like to thank all of the dedicated staff that keeps us grumpy old men on this side of the dirt. 

Q: How do we get an ID card?

A: The Veterans Identification Card Act 2015 (Public Law 114-31) was enacted on July 20, 2015. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is drafting regulations that will allow VA to implement and enforce the legislation. However, this is a lengthy process that requires time for a public comment period as well as approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The rule making process is expected to take 12 months or more. VA is also in the process of developing procedures and policies to implement the VA ID card program. VA currently estimates the program will be implemented in 2017.

With regard to the use of veteran ID cards for store discounts, please note: The VA identification card, once available, will allow Veterans to demonstrate proof of service for discounts at private restaurants and businesses.

It should be noted that the identification card is different from a Veteran Health Identification card or a DoD Uniformed Services or retiree ID card. As such, the VA identification cards cannot be used as proof of eligibility to any federal benefits and does not grant access to military installations.

When available, Veterans will be able to request an ID card from VA for a fee. VA is currently making plans to implement the new law in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible while protecting Veterans' personal information. We estimate that VA will be able implement the program in 2017. The cost of each card has not yet been determined.

In the meantime, Veterans who would like an identification card that displays their military service do not have to wait until VA implements the new law. You have several options:

You can access and print a free Veterans identification card through the joint VA/DoD web portal, eBenefits. This paper identification card serves as proof of honorable service in the Uniformed Services, as defined in laws about the Department of Defense (DoD).  Veterans can get a free eBenefits account by going to

Your driver's license or state identification card can carry a Veteran designation. This option is currently available in 49 states, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. We expect the 50th state, Washington, to offer this service in August 2017.
Veterans wanting more information should contact their state department of motor vehicles or state department of Veterans affairs at
Veterans who are enrolled in VA health care can obtain a free Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC). For more information, please go to

Veterans who have retired from military service can receive an identification card from DoD. For information on obtaining or renewing such a card, please contact your nearest DoD identification card facility. You can find the location of these facilities through this link:

Suggestion: It would help Drs. and speed up diagnosis to have x-ray at the clinics.

Response: Thank you for your feedback! We are working to improve the timeliness and availability of Radiology Services across our Health Care system.  Currently, Veterans seen at the Perry Point and the Baltimore VA Medical Centers can receive x-rays very quickly. Although we currently don’t have the ability to provide X-rays directly in the Primary Care Clinics, we are working on processes to ensure a more seamless transition between Primary and Radiology. 

Q: When I used to file for travel reimbursement, the clerks would populate the form and I would sign. Now, if the automated travel kiosk isn't working, which for me has been about 50% of the time, I now have to handwrite the form.
A: Using the Kiosk and filling out the paper form is just another option for applying for mileage.  Veterans can still apply for mileage in person with a clerk at any location.
Q: When I try to make an appointment with my primary care doctor, the clerks will only allow making an appointment for the next 30 days. When that happens, I can't get an appointment for when I want. When I could make an appointment 90 days out, I could get the appointment when I wanted it.
A: We apologize if there was confusion on our end.  In the past, Veterans were always able to make appointments 90 days out. Moving forward, patients will be able to make an appointment up to 390 days out. Please feel free to reach out to your Primary Care Team to have this issue resolved and book your appointment at your desired time.

Q: What is the income level now to receive benefits?
A: For health care benefits, you can call 1-877-222-8327 for exact, up-to-date figures.

Q: You tell me you are short GI doctors so I may see a civilian doctor. The civilian doctor has me on Humara. The VA will only fill the prescription for Humara if I see the VA GI doctor. Now I'm back to three months again
A: If you see a community physician through the Choice program, then the VA Pharmacy will fill that prescription. If you see a community physician on your own, the VA pharmacy cannot directly fill your prescription.

Q: Can I sign up for the choice program at Ft Meade or Glen Burnie or do I need to go downtown?
A: The Choice Program is designed to provide care to veterans who live more than 40 miles from any VA health care facility or can't be seen within 30 days. If you meet one of these criteria, a VA provider at any location can refer you to a community provider through the Choice Program.

Q: Who do I call to arrange in filing for benefits?
A: During the town hall, there was a special telephone line to speak directly with a claims processor. (Normally, the VA Benefits Assistance number is 1-800-827-1000. There’s also a new, 24/7 number for the VA – 1-844-698-2311.)

Q: How does a veteran take advantage of the DoD/VA medical sharing initiative? There is a particular therapy that I really need that is available at Walter Reed and not in the VA system.
A: You'll need start with your primary care provider about the therapy you're interested in receiving. (The Veteran indicated his primary care provider wasn’t aware of the therapy, so the VAMHCS asked the Veteran to email us directly so that we could help him.)

Q: I was told at age 65 I had to file for Medicare part A and Part B and pay 120/month for Part B. why is this if I have VA health care and is there a benefit. Does the VA need a copy of our medicare Part A card. I've had it now since turning 65 and VA has never asked for it.
A:  When you come in for your next appointment at the VA, please provide the card to the check-in clerk. We can't respond for Social Security.