Veterans in need of medical care through the Veterans Administration has never been greater, and the strains on the VA never more acute. The backlog of veterans waiting to get into the VA medical system is four times longer than it is was back in the summer of 2009. As the VA pushes to get more veterans into the VA medical system faster, the issue becomes, is current staffing at the VA medical centers adequate to provide quality medical care and treatment to the increase in veterans needing medical care? If not, veterans face inadequate medical care and treatment, and the VA faces an increase in medical malpractice claims.

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At a minimum, there are three things a veteran can do to ensure they receive quality medical care.

1. Know Your Patient Bill of Rights

Veterans need to understand the VA’s Patient Bill of Rights and must hold the VA to those rights. A complete overview of the VA Patient Bill of Rights is available on the VA’s website, and they include:

  • Being treated with dignity, compassion and respect in a safe environment that honors the patient’s cultural and personal values.
  • Assurance of privacy protection, confidentiality and full disclosure to them of all information related to their care.
  • Full participation in decisions about their treatment decisions.
  • Be encouraged to seek help from the treatment team or a patient advocate about any complaints related to their care.

Family members of patients within the VA system are also afforded specific rights similar to those of the patient; most notably family members play a key role in the decisions on their loved one’s treatment.

 2. Make Sure Your Medical Records are Accurate

When the demand for patient care is high, it’s easy for hospital staff at every level to make errors in a patient’s medical records. An error in one’s medical records can lead to misdiagnosis which is potentially detrimental to the veteran’s treatment and in some cases could lead to serious injury or death. Errors in medical records are common in all medical facilities. However, most medical facilities do not deal with the volume of patient care that the VA medical system does. The stress placed on the VA system by an increase in patients will increase the likelihood of errors or omissions in a veteran’s medical records.  Therefore, it is important that veterans and family members ensure the veteran’s medical records are accurate.

To ensure accurate medical records, veterans should have a family member present at all medical appointments and keep a detailed notebook which contains the veteran’s medical history, the veteran’s symptoms, a list of medications the veteran is currently taking and dosage for each, and photographs of any injuries or wounds. Veterans should also document a summary of their medical examinations, diagnosis and treatments. The veteran and family member should then make sure that the veteran’s medical records accurately reflect all of the above. If any errors are discovered, the veteran and family member should report the errors and ensure the errors are corrected.

3.  File a Claim With the VA

If the veteran and family members feel that the quality of medical care received was substandard, then they should make a claim with the VA quality assurance representative. In more severe cases, the veteran and family member may want to consider filing a claim against the VA for monetary damages for the injuries they received as a result of the substandard care they received. By being aware of their Patient Bill of Rights, ensuring their medical records are accurate, and how to file a claim with the VA, veterans and their families can ensure veterans will receive the quality of care they deserve.

Barthel’s commentary has been lightly edited for style, grammar and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

Gary Barthel is a partner with Higgs Fletcher & Mack. He has extensive litigation and leadership experience following 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps....

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