The Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical system has had to evolve with the changing population of veterans, from aging World War II-era soldiers to a new influx of veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and to more female veterans than ever.
About 90,000 veterans are enrolled with the Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which also oversees clinics in suburban and Southern Maryland, said the center’s medical director, Brian A. Hawkins.
An estimated 425,000 veterans live in Maryland, 15.5 percent of whom served in the Afghanistan and Iraq war periods after 2001, according to 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data. The largest segment is Vietnam War-era veterans, who account for 33 percent of the state’s veteran population. Eleven percent of Maryland’s veterans now are women.
“We’re doing more women’s health care than ever before,” Hawkins said.
The VA has taken a leadership role in implementing electronic medical records to make it easier for patients to be seen at different facilities across the nation and to not have the same tests repeated by different physicians, Hawkins said.
The VA also is taking a lead in telemedicine so that veterans can go to a local clinic close to home and see a specialist remotely at a distant hospital instead of having to make a special trip, Hawkins said.
Although the VA faced criticism in the past, it has made strides in its service, he said.
“Many times people think of the VA with the old horror stories and that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Hawkins said. “We do deliver world-class health care.”
In the past 15 years, the VA has moved to more outpatient clinics instead of the conventional “bricks-and-mortar” hospitals as a way to make it easier for veterans to get care.
“This is a more patient-centric model,” Hawkins said.