Veterans who have completed their service in the armed forces have access to numerous govern-ment-run services and organizations. One such organization is the Veterans Health Administra-tion (VHA), a health care system of more than 1,200 facilities that address and treat the diverse health needs of veterans across the country. With about 170 medical centers and 1,060 outpatient sites, the VHA serves over 9 million enrolled veterans each year. Those interested in pursuing a career in health services may find many rewarding opportunities working for the VHA.
What Does the VHA Do?
The VHA was the first government institution created specifically for honorably discharged members of the military. The first home for convalescent soldiers opened in 1866 in Maine, born out of facilities used for Union Army veterans. After World War I, Congress approved a new program that required the creation and operation of hospitals for veterans returning home. Since then, the VHA has expanded to become one of the most extensive health care providers in the country. In addition to managing medical facilities and providing necessary treatment to ser-vicemen and servicewomen, the VHA also offers training and runs research programs that benefit society as a whole.
Because of its vast patient population and reach, the VHA oversees a number of different types of facilities in 23 regional, integrated service networks. These include:
● VA medical centers and hospitals offer traditional health care services, including medical and surgical specialty services like oncology and geriatrics. Depending on the location, some may even offer procedures like organ transplants and plastic surgery for military-related injuries.
● Community-based outpatient clinics are meant for routine appointments and health and wellness visits. These have become increasingly important over the years as centers for primary care, and there are plans to expand their presence in rural communities. The clinics are geographically separate from the larger VA medical facilities.
● Vet centers provide a wide range of social and psychological services to veterans and their families. Some of their more specialized offerings include bereavement counseling and substance abuse assessment.
● A fleet of 80 mobile vet centers are designed to assist communities that do not meet the re-quirements for a permanent vet center but have a need for mental health services.
● Assisted living and other residential centers are focused on the health needs of veterans who require intense care and daily assistance.
The VHA also offers home health care providers and remote telehealth services for patients who live in rural communities where more traditional facilities might not exist. Examples of telehealth technology include videoconferencing services that enable real-time interactions, or “store-and-forward” systems that enable patients to share medical information with doctors without both parties having to be present in the room at the same time.
Services Offered by the VHA
The list of services the Veterans Health Administration provides is robust. As the go-to health care network for the millions of American veterans, the agency administers preventive care like health exams and vaccinations, treatments for genetic diseases, and educational programs geared toward this community. Its medical facilities provide the same kind of care as standard hospitals, including surgeries, dialysis, treatment of severe illness or injury, and post-op care. Veterans can visit these facilities for emergency care services, and a number of VHA hospitals can offer spe-cialized care like organ transplants, oncology services, and the treatment of brain injuries.
Many veterans have endured traumatic experiences during or after their service, and there is a growing awareness of the harmful effects that these experiences can have on veterans’ health. Vet centers have responded by expanding mental health services to support those with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, while also offering resources for suicide prevention. Other services include individual and group counseling, bereavement counseling, substance abuse assessment and referral, and outreach and education on mental health topics.
The VHA is also increasing its efforts to address the health needs of female veterans. Each VA medical center now has a women veterans program manager who helps coordinate services that eligible servicewomen may be seeking. The agency also provides female-specific health care ser-vices such as:
● Maternity care
● Pap smears
● Birth control
● Infertility evaluation
VHA by the Numbers
This massive endeavor to treat the growing health needs of the country’s swelling veteran popu-lation is why the Veterans Health Administration is one of the largest health care systems both inside and outside the United States. Over 9 million people are treated by the agency across 1,243 health care facilities, 172 of which are medical centers and 1,062 outpatient sites. The VHA is also an organization that employs over 300,000 professionals, with the demand for trained health care workers to join the VHA expected to rise. Veterans can often face more com-plicated and complex health challenges than civilians, since they are an aging population with higher rates of chronic physical and mental health conditions. Future military conflicts could cre-ate a new cohort of eligible veterans, and geographic shifts among the population could also in-fluence where and when new VHA facilities open.
How an MHA Can Help Lead to the VHA
This complex system of care that the VHA manages requires not only additional medical profes-sionals but also executives and managers specialized in health care. Earning a Master of Health Administration could give candidates a competitive advantage if their degree is geared toward becoming an organizational leader in the field. The Veterans Health Administration and its affili-ates benefit from highly trained hospital administrators who understand the different policies that regulate their services, recognize the financial scope of a government-based budget, and can implement strategies that satisfy the specific needs of a particular demographic.
Graduates of Regis College’s online Master of Health Administration program are equipped with the skills to become successful leaders in a variety of health professions. Find more details about courses and future career options on Regis’ MHA program website.