Seamless medical care for traveling veterans

Alaska Older Veterans Report

You have decided you need a change of scenery and want to explore our wonderful country. You pull out the Rand McNally (I am aware I have just dated myself) and pick a section of the country on your bucket list. Then, reality strikes. You have VA medical appointments, meds about to run out and a lab test scheduled.

Your next logical step would be to wait until all of those little situations are sorted before leaving. I have a news flash: There will always be some little appointment, event or family crisis that will delay your trip until after a gas pipeline transporting natural gas from the North Slope is a reality. You may have to address your family situation before the trip, but not your VA medical care.

If you are enrolled and receive your health care with VA, you will receive the same, consistent care, whether at your local VA treatment site or an alternate VA site of care.  To help VA ensure you receive consistent care while you are traveling, notify your VA Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT), preferably 4 to 6 weeks before departure, or as soon as you are aware of the trip. Early planning will allow time for PACT and the Traveling Veteran Coordinator to coordinate your care at an alternate VA facility.

To coordinate your health care with another VA health care facility, inform your PACT of the following:

• travel destination(s), and temporary address

• a valid telephone number

arrival and departure date

specific care concerns

• Your PACT will contact the Traveling Veteran Coordinator, who will assist in coordinating your care at the alternate facility.

For more information, contact your PACT or Traveling Veteran Coordinator at your local VA facility.

Urgent and after-hours care

If you need non-emergency care, call the after-hours telephone advice care line to get advice about your health concerns. The advice line, staffed by registered nurses, will discuss your medical concerns and work with you to determine the care you need. The registered nurse will document the telephone call in your electronic medical record and notify the appropriate medical provider.

What if you require a hospital admission? Your VA provider will make appropriate arrangements to admit you to the nearest VA hospital that is adequately equipped and staffed to furnish the care you need. Depending on your eligibility and other factors, VA may admit you to a non-VA hospital.

What if you think you have a medical emergency? Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You do not have to contact VA in advance.

What is a medical emergency? A condition that would cause a prudent layperson (a person who possesses an average knowledge of health and medicine) to reasonably expect that a delay in seeking immediate medical attention would be hazardous to life or health.

Non-VA facilities

You should go to the nearest emergency room, whether in a VA or private facility. If you are in an ambulance, the paramedics will usually take you to the closest emergency room.

If the doctor wants to admit you to the non-VA hospital, must you obtain approval from VA? If the admission is a medical emergency – no. If the admission is not for a medical emergency – yes. You, a friend, a family member, or someone from the non-VA hospital should call the closest VA medical center and speak to the patient transfer or patient administration representative within 72 hours of your arrival at the emergency room. You will be offered a transfer to VA if a VA bed is available and you can be safely transferred.

Does my enrollment in the VA Health Care System change my coverage for emergency care? Maybe. Call your local VA facility’s Enrollment Coordinator to find out what your options are.

Does my other insurance (TRICARE, Medicare, Medicaid, Blue Cross, etc.) change my VA coverage for emergency services? It might. Call your local VA facility’s Enrollment Coordinator to find out what your options are.

Veterans health care coverage and Medicare

Enrolled veterans receive VA’s comprehensive medical benefits package. VA can provide care for all your health care needs.

For more information, contact your PACT or Traveling Veteran Coordinator at your local VA facility or call toll-free 1-877-222-VETS (8387) Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern.

How can you reach your PACT or provider without an appointment? If you are unable to make an appointment to see your PACT or provider in person, you can reach them by telephone or through secure messaging in MyHealtheVet. For more information about MyHealtheVet and how to register, visit

Why is it important to discuss your travel plans with the VA? VA’s goal is to ensure your quality of health care is consistent across medical facilities. When you inform your PACT of your extended travel plans, VA can prepare the alternate site for your arrival, if outpatient care is needed. Coordination helps to prevent any disruption in your care.

For more detailed information go to

Happy trails to you until we meet again (oops, dated myself again).

Mike Dryden is a retired Army Major and current Older Persons Action Group, Inc., board member.