Patients give IM’s VA center high marks for trust

OPTOMETRIST DR. DEAN Hartwig checks a veteran’s eyes Feb. 2 at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain. (Photo courtesy of the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center)

IRON MOUNTAIN — The level of trust veterans have in care received at Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center has risen to 94.9%, a recent survey showed.

That level is up from 90.8% in 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced in a news release. Additionally, nationwide trust in VA outpatient care has risen from 85.6% in 2018 to 91.8% in the most recent survey.

The figures are based on a survey of veteran patients who received VA health care in the past 90 days. Within one week of using VA services, veterans were asked whether they trusted VA for their health care needs across a variety of categories, including scheduling an appointment, health care visits, in-person pharmacy, mail-order pharmacy, labs/imaging and veteran safety, according to the DVA.

This survey mirrors the findings of recent independent studies, the DVA news release states. According to Medicare’s latest nationwide survey of patients, VA hospitals outperformed non-VA hospitals on all 10 core patient satisfaction metrics — including overall hospital rating, communication with doctors, communication about medication, willingness to recommend the hospital, and more.

VA health care has also consistently outperformed non-VA care in peer-reviewed studies, overall quality ratings and affordability for veterans.

“It’s uplifting to know our veterans think so highly of us. This score is our report card, and according to our veterans, we’re doing well,” said John P. Shealey, director of the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain. “But there’s always room for improvement. We look at every comment we receive and use them to make improvements. Every day we aim to make ourselves better than we were the day before.”

Shealey added, “As a testament to our commitment to our veterans, we’ve received a patient experience award for five consecutive years since the awards inception in the category of level 3 facility or overall, for all facility levels. It’s only been given for five years, and we’ve won each year. We’re the only VA to have accomplished this.”

According to the DVA, more than 800 new veterans have been enrolled at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center over the past year, due in part to new legislation such the PACT Act signed into law by President Joe Biden. The act allowed VA facilities to expand health care and benefits to millions of veterans nationwide. As of March 5, all veterans who were exposed to toxins and other hazards while serving in the military and meet certain requirements became eligible to enroll directly in VA health care. This means all veterans who served in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Global War on Terror or any other combat zone after 9/11 can enroll directly in VA health care without first applying for VA benefits.

Additionally, veterans who never deployed but were exposed to toxins or hazards while training or on active duty in the United States are also eligible to enroll.

In addition, the VA is conducting the most aggressive outreach campaign in its history, including hosting more than 2,600 events since the enactment of the PACT Act, launching a more than $16 million advertising campaign, using public service announcements, and — for the first time ever — sending text messages to veterans encouraging them to enroll in VA health care, according to the DVA news release.

“I strongly believe that the Oscar G. Johnson VAMC and its community-based outpatient clinics are the best medical option for veterans throughout the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin,” Shealey said. “We will continue to pound the pavement, seeking out the veterans who are not enrolled so we can explain their benefits to them and hopefully get them enrolled. They’ve earned these benefits and we want them to have them.”

OGJVAMC expand its outreach efforts this year through in-person town halls, while maintaining the use of virtual town halls that were very effective throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Facility leadership is also looking into other ways that have not been previously tried to reach veterans.

The VA encourages all veterans, family members, caregivers and survivors to understand how VA fits into their lives and apply for their health care and earned benefits.

For more information or to enroll in VA health care, veterans can call Nathan Chellew in the Enrollment and Eligibility office at 906-774-3300, ext. 32809, or meet with him in room 1101 of the Iron Mountain VA Medical Center, 325 E. H St. in Iron Mountain.

To apply for such programs as disability benefits, education benefits, CHAMPVA, burial, DIC claims or any other benefits, veterans also can call a Veteran Service Officer at 906-774-2820, or stop in at 2301 Woodward Ave. in Kingsford. To reach the VSO at the Iron Mountain VAMC, call 906-774-3300, ext. 33194, or 586-854-2772, or go to room 1220 of the Iron Mountain VAMC, 325 E. H St. in Iron Mountain. To locate a nearby VSO, go online to https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits/vso-search.

For more information about VA care, go to the VA’s health care website, https://www.va.gov/health-care/eligibility. For more information about veteran trust in VA, go to https://www.va.gov/initiatives/veteran-trust-in-va/.


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