Snowbird veteran denied VA clinic care
JOE SEELIGSEBRING - A disabled veteran from Michigan said Tuesday that as a snowbird living in Sebring six months out of the year, he was recently denied care at the local VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic, when they had cared for him in years gone by.
Published: November 8, 2012
Published: November 8, 2012
Vietnam veteran Gary L. Johnson said he served 19 months in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged as a sergeant with the 25th Infantry Command Group.
He earned two Bronze Stars, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal, a Combat Infantry Badge, a Good Conduct Medal and a Vietnam Campaign Medal.
He has a two-bedroom home in Whisper Lake.
Johnson is 100 percent disabled. Some of his illness is linked to exposure to Agent Orange, he said. He also suffers with post traumatic stress disorder.
"I've been coming down here for quite a few years," he said. "I started going to the Sebring VA clinic approximately five years ago. I've always been taken care of. This year I went there and they said they couldn't treat me, that I had to go over to Bay Pines (in St. Petersburg).
"So that's 100 miles each way, which is kind of asinine to me when they have a place this close where they can do it as they've done in the past. This is the first time that it's happened. They give fantastic care at the Sebring VA clinic. I even bought them pizza and pop last year before I went back home."
This whole situation has made him feel like he's just another number to the government he served.
"I served my country," he said. "I served it well. I'm paying for it now."
Johnson notified his primary care physician that he was coming to Florida for the winter and they gave him six-months worth of his prescriptions, he said.
He is on a couple of medications that require blood work to be done regularly to check his levels, he said.
"I called the VA service representative over here on U.S. 27 and she said I've got one main primary doctor and that's who I have to see unless I go out of state and then I have to go someplace like Bay Pines," Johnson said.
"She said this is a nationwide thing where servicemen cannot go to local clinics, like snowbirds. Because I'm registered in Michigan I can't use a clinic down here."
He said he knows at least one other snowbird facing this and was sure there had to be more.
Mary Margret Staik, at the Highlands County Veterans Service Office, said Wednesday that any honorably discharged veteran can go to any VA hospital in the country for care.
If he or she is already registered at a veterans hospital outside of Florida, he or she may not use the VA clinic for a secondary hospital.
"The rule has been on the books," she said. "It is not new. They are just enforcing it."
However, she said if the veteran requires a level of constant care his primary care doctor can write an order for the veteran to be seen.
The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System does not deny health care services to eligible veterans, and at the same time works hard to ensure it delivers the very best managed health care services available, said Jason W. Dangel, public affairs officer, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.
Veterans who are eligible for VA healthcare are given the option to choose their preferred provider/facility, or the location at which they receive the majority of their healthcare, he said.
Most of the time, this would be a location that is close to where he/she lives in order to provide continuity of care. This could be a local clinic or a medical center.
Dangel said he, too, is a veteran.
"If I were to go visit a VA clinic in Texas for routine lab services, the staff should (according to policy) ask me to consult with my primary care provider in Florida," he said.
"After consulting with my PCP, he/she could order the lab work through the clinic in Texas if deemed necessary."
After the order is completed, he could visit the clinic for the service, he said.
"If I knew I was traveling out of the state for a period of time, I would want to let my PCP know in advance to ensure coordination with a clinic or medical center closest to my destination," he said.
email@example.com (863) 386-5834