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My Turn: This nurse and patient prefers the VA to private hospitals

Recently, on KFI-AM 640’s morning show, Bill Handel and Dick Morris were commenting on the healthcare bill. Morris sarcastically asked if Bill would want to go to a Veterans Affairs hospital or a private hospital for care. Both laughed as Bill indicated that, naturally, he would choose the private hospital.

As a person who for more than 40 years has almost always used the Veterans hospital in various locales, I have an inside knowledge of what it is like to have outpatient and inpatient care there. Also, as an RN who has since 1968 worked in public and private hospitals, I probably have much more first-hand experience than Bill, Dick and most other commentators on hospital care.

I have excellent private insurance that, when I have used it, usually has served me well. And to be candid, there have been a few times when the VA system was not always perfect in my care. But all gaffes were quite minor and caused no health problems.

Since hearing that radio discussion, I have Googled article after article, researching the quality of care in VA and private hospitals. Many articles did comparisons of the two systems. What I read showed that in all the criteria for hospital care, quality and outcomes, the VA system did better or equal to the best private institutions.

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The articles also mentioned that the VA actually does much better in terms of keeping people healthy. The reason: The VA system usually has a lifetime health relationship with its members and it is in the best interest of the system to keep them healthy, thus saving money for the entire organization.

The studies mirrored my experience. The VA hospitals are remarkable in the cleanliness of the environment. VA hospitals are usually very friendly places, and people go out of their way to direct you to the right place or find what you need.

My appointments are always easy to make and usually happen within 30 days. But if I am ill or really sick, I can come in either that day (always, in the case in an emergency) or go to the walk-in clinic the next day.

My experience in the emergency department has always been superb — fast and efficient, with excellent physicians and nurses. I have worked for years in private emergency departments, and I have found the VA light-years faster in getting me in, treated and out. VA rooms are usually doubles and thus not the equal of private. But they are often cleaner, and the beds and equipment more comfortable and modern. I also found nurse responses to a call light equal or faster than in private hospitals.

Usually, for medications and procedures, there is a $10 co-payment, and I have lifetime unlimited coverage, no matter what. Try that on for size with private healthcare.

The studies show it wasn’t always this way. But I am talking about my experience and what is reality today.

Many people toss out totally erroneous opinions as fact regarding the American healthcare system. Based on the VA system (and all independent reports on Medicare), our nation would be better served by expanding the system to include all of the population, and funding the expansion with tax dollars/dues.

Morris and Handel may have laughed at the question — but they and many others would have better treatment by going to a Veterans hospital instead of that big private medical center that they mistakenly think is superior.

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Hennes, a registered nurse who lives in Los Angeles, is a Vietnam combat veteran.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail health@latimes.com. We read every essay but can’t respond to every writer.


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