06/07/2013 11:18 am ET Updated Aug 07, 2013

What VA Is Getting Right

It seems to be human nature to complain when something goes wrong but not praise success -- and the adage "If it bleeds, it leads" still seems to hold sway in most newsrooms. That's also true when it comes to the modern Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) -- we hear much more about what goes wrong than what is working. VA certainly has room to improve, but I worry the relentlessly-negative coverage could deter vets from seeking the care and benefits they deserve. I've previously written about the disability claims backlog at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) offers many benefits that make it a total system of care. I encourage veterans to use VHA, even though individual VA Medical Centers may vary fairly significantly, and some are struggling. Independent assessments have shown that VA outperforms Medicare and other systems. Today, I'd like to call attention to some great things VA does that many people may not know about.

1. Prosthetics -- There's nowhere else I'd want to go for a prosthetic device: "America's veterans receive the best prosthetic care in the world." VA works with veterans to get them what is required to do the types of activities they want to do. For example, VA provides one of my friends with three legs: a regular leg for everyday use and two different specialty legs for use while doing CrossFit and running. In a review of civilian health insurance plans, over half did not specifically mention prosthetics; of those plans that covered, many had caps (often of $5,000 or less). The X2, provided to veterans by VA, costs $30,000. In addition to prosthetic devices, VA will also cover automobile adaptive equipment and provides a clothing allowance since prosthetics can cause clothing to wear out faster.

2. Service dogs -- VA covers veterinary care for the service dogs of blind and hearing-impaired veterans.

3. Transportation -- Veterans may be eligible for mileage reimbursements or have certain kinds of transportation (ambulance, wheelchair van, etc.) paid for when such transportation is considered necessary for travel to receive VA services.

4. Rural health care -- Many veterans live in remote areas and face challenges accessing health care; VA is pursuing multiple methods to better serve them, including opening new Community-Based Outpatient Clinics and sending mobile medical units and Vet Centers into many communities to make it easier for vets to get routine care and counseling. In addition, VA is expanding telemedicine technologies, eliminating the need for many veterans to travel long distances for routine visits.

5. Free care for OIF/OEF veterans -- All OIF/OEF/OND veterans get five years of free health care after they leave active duty. Beyond that, the tiered priority system can be confusing to many, but it's important to remember that all eligible veterans can use VA for care, though some (for example, those in higher income brackets without any service-connected disability) may have copayments.

At various points in my life, I've had no health insurance, civilian health insurance, and military health insurance and have used military medical care and VA medical care. None of these systems has been perfect -- I've gotten both good and bad care in every type of setting. Yet I've seen the most negative coverage of the VA.

Veterans, advocates, and all citizens should certainly continue urging for continual improvement at VA. But rather than only sharing bad news when it pops up, we should also spread the success stories about what VA is getting right and urge veterans to seek the care and benefits they have earned.