Chattanooga doctor offers six tips for veterans seeking health care

Dr. Christopher LeSar

Q: I'm a retired veteran and often need assistance in managing my health care needs. What can I do to make the process easier?

A: It can be difficult for veterans to find all of the paperwork they need when navigating the health care system. Veterans often face an uphill battle in accessing the benefits they are entitled to receive. Unfortunately, this includes accessing health care, too, but there are steps veterans can take to combat the problem. You can advocate for your health by keeping track of your medical records and other important documents.

It's often overwhelming to assert your needs and seek the care you deserve. Here are six documents that can help veterans advocate for their health:

1. Explanation of benefits: The first document that you should keep on hand is your insurance policy's explanation of benefits. This statement describes what your policy will and won't cover, the cost of various services and what portion the insurer will pay for those services. Understanding your health insurance is imperative.

2. Medical records: You should also keep a detailed file that contains all of your medical records. This should include your doctors' notes from appointments as well as copies of X-rays and test results. One method is to use a PDF converter to organize your medical records. By converting your records into PDF format, you can easily and quickly create a searchable database of all your medical information. This can be extremely helpful when you need to find specific information or track your health over time. In addition, PDFs can be password-protected for added security, ensuring your confidential medical information remains safe and secure.

3. Power of attorney declaration: Veterans who require constant care may benefit from a senior living facility. A nursing home may be the right choice, for example, if you suffer from a serious medical condition. Before you commit to a nursing home, you should look at its reviews, payment methods and the cost of services. You should also consider designating a loved one as your power of attorney. This will allow them to make decisions regarding your health and advocate on your behalf. If you choose to do this, you should retain all documentation, including the notarized declaration.

4. Doctor contact information: If you have a team of health care professionals, you need to ensure that you can get in touch with them at a moment's notice. Having their contact information readily available is the best way to do this, but you may struggle to organize this information if it's not compiled in a single place. Create a document that includes the name, phone number, email and address of each of your medical providers.

5. Monthly appointment calendar: A calendar is also an essential document for keeping track of your health care providers and any appointments you have with them. If your schedule is especially busy with work, though, you might struggle to fit in time for your health. To address this problem, commit to small steps toward wellness. Instead of an elevator, for example, take the stairs -- and instead of sitting through your lunch break, get up and take a walk.

6. Veteran health ID card: Veterans who are enrolled in the Veterans Affairs health care system will receive a veteran health identification card. This document is necessary to access appointments and benefits that are offered at a VA facility. To get a card, veterans need to apply for benefits and request a card from their enrollment coordinator.

Dr. Christopher LeSar is a vascular surgeon with Vascular Institute of Chattanooga and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.