AF Veteran Karla never realized she was eligible for VA services until a friend suggested she look into it. She’s so happy with her care that she wanted to share her story with us to help others.
You never utilized VA benefits after you got out of the service?
I’m sure that when I got out of the service, during my exit interview they told me about VA. I’m sure they gave me some brochures, pamphlets, a folder, and I have them somewhere stuck in a box in the attic.
But I never realized I was eligible for VA services until some cousins of mine and a friend encouraged me to look into it. I told them, “Well, no, I’m not retired. I’m not severely disabled. I didn’t serve in war time.” And they said “Look, as long as you had anything other than a dishonorable discharge and you served 90 days, you’re in.”
And I was so stunned because I printed off the form, [it] took me two minutes to fill out. I went to VA and within five minutes literally I had my first appointment. And they have taken excellent care of me.
Is your condition service related?
I have multiple sclerosis, which is a presumptive condition where, if you are showing symptoms within seven years of leaving the military, they presume that your multiple sclerosis could very well be related to your military service.
How would you contrast what you had through private insurance with what you have under VA?
I think it’s very different. I think I get much better care, much more comprehensive care through VA. Because I was falling a lot and I had broken both feet at different times. And no doctor ever asked me and I never thought to say, “You know I need some help here in terms of a way to keep from falling so much.”
So I think VA has done a tremendous job, even better than I was getting in the private sector. I was hospitalized at VA and occupational therapists and a social worker and physical therapists came to the room to interview me. And they realized I fall at the front door, just getting out of my house. And I fall in the shower a lot.
A week after I got out of the hospital the VA put a ramp on my front door to keep me mobile and keep me from falling. And they provided some different tools in the shower to help me and they provided an assistant to come and assist me. So they’ve done a great job in uncovering unmet needs.
VA provided your wheelchair as well, right?
Since I was already a fall hazard, they gave me a wheelchair, just a standard issue wheelchair. And about 8 months later I happened to run into the physical therapist in the hallway and he asked if I was comfortable staying in the chair. Was that my plan?
And he agreed that a good plan for me would be a custom wheelchair. It was like being fitted by the tailor for a suit because they measured everything, every angle, every size. The result is I have a custom wheelchair that actually fits me very well, even got my favorite color. So it’s great.
What do you think your life would be like if you had not learned that you could access some of these benefits through VA?
Life would be drastically different for me. I’m disabled. I’m not able to work. And I’m not sure where I would be getting health care from because COBRA was way too expensive. So when I found out I was eligible and walked in and got my first appointment within a week and a half, I was absolutely floored. I really was.
The fact that I can have care from some of the best doctors in the city, some of the exact same doctors at the VA that I used to go to see out in the private sector. It is phenomenal. So my suggestion to any Veterans, or anyone on activity duty now, is to remember that you have that in your back pocket. Tap into it because it’s a great resource.
See more of Karla’s story below.
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Bronwyn Emmet is a public affairs specialist for the VA National Veterans Outreach Office.