Introduction to Local Healthcare

The Local VA Hospital System #

The Lehigh Valley has two VA community based outpatient clinics, satellites of the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center (VAMC).

  • The Allentown VA Outpatient Clinic is located at 3110 Hamilton Boulevard, Allentown, PA 18103. Its telephone number is 610-776-4304 or Toll Free 1-866-249-6472.
  • The Northampton County Outpatient Clinic (aka “Bangor” Clinic) is located at Phoebe Slate Belt Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center, 701 Slate Belt Boulevard, Bangor, PA 18013-9341. Call 610-599-0127. It is not a full service primary clinic like Allentown’s.
  • The Wilkes-Barre VAMC is located at 1111 East End Blvd., Wilkes-Barre, PA  18711. Call 570-824-3521 or Toll Free: 1-877-928-2621 for medical center needs.

How to Determine if You Qualify and Can Enroll for VA Healthcare #

As in the past, you can call a VA clinic or hospital (see the preceding section for the local facilities) and they will send you a VA Form 1010EZ (Application for Health Benefits) package to complete; or you could go down to the facility and pick up the package.  Click here for the new online way of doing it (which also simply explains the entire process) … or you can now apply to enroll in the VA’s healthcare system by picking up the phone and dialing 1-877-222-8387 (VETS) between Monday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.  As of 5 July 2016, telephone applications no longer require a follow-up signature.

Making a Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Appointment #

Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center uses a call center to schedule appointments at the hospital and its primary clinic.  Click here for all the options.  The main number to the phone tree continues to be tel: 1-877-928-2621.

Using Wilkes-Barre VAMC’s Pharmacy #

It too is a centralized system, unlike in the past.  To find out how to refill your prescriptions and where to pick up new prescription orders, click here.  the telephone number is tel: 1-877-928-2621, select 4

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Explaining The Community Care Network Program #

What started out as the Veteran’s Choice Act program, has more fully evolved.  The Mission Act of 2018 assured that.  Details on and how to use how to use the program can be found here.

Veterans may be eligible to receive care from a local community provider when VA cannot provide the care needed. This care is provided on behalf of and paid for by VA.  It must be noted community care is available to veterans based on certain conditions (such as travel time) and eligibility requirements, and in consideration of a veteran’s specific needs and circumstances.  Therefore, community care must be first authorized by VA before a Veteran can receive care from a community provider.  In other words, do not go see a private physician of your choice and then seek reimbursement.  Won’t happen.

Community Care Call Center #

It began in March 2016 when the Veterans Health Administration established  a one-stop  “Community Care Call Center” to resolve billing issues resulting from the Veterans Choice program.  The purpose of the contact/call center (call it what you will) has since expanded, and it is now a useful resource for both veterans and the medical providers.

According to the VA, the center’s staff is trained and ready to work with the medical providers to expunge adverse credit reporting on veterans resulting from delayed payments to providers.

The main number to call is 1-877-881-7618, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. EST.

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VISN-4 Health Chat Line #

Do you have a question about a minor health issue but not sure if you need an appointment?  Or do you need a prescription refilled?  You can receive care from VA without stepping foot into a facility using VA Health Chat.  VISN 4 (the VA Health Administration’s coordinating field office for Pennsylvania) says you can use VA Health Chat (a chat line) to be connected quickly to a VISN 4 Clinical Contact Center nurse who is ready to give you medical advice when you:

  • Feel ill and unsure about going to an emergency room or clinic
  • Have a reaction to a medication
  • Have questions about your prescriptions or need a refill
  • Need medical advice for a minor injury or illness

    These nurses (stationed at multiple VISN-4 locations) are available to chat from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, except federal holidays.

    The option to speak on a phone remains, tel: 1-833-835-3874, but this initiative is introducing a phone app and desktop browser option.

    Visit https://mobile.va.gov/app/va-health-chat to launch from your browser or to download the app.  It will require you to sing in like MyHealtheVet does.

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    Suicide Prevention/Emotional Crisis Assistance #

    If you are a veteran or know a veteran you know is experiencing an emotional crisis and need to talk with a trained professional, the primary way to get prompt VA service is to use the National Suicide Prevention toll-free hotline number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 after the introduction, or simply dial 988, to obtain a VA counselor (If you do not press 1, you will speak to a non-VA contact). The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This service will later connect you with a local point of contact for follow-up. It really has worked in our area.

    Lehigh Valley Suicide Prevention Telephone Numbers: #

    • Lehigh County Crisis Intervention Hotline: 610-782-3127
    • Northampton County Crisis Intervention Hotline: 610-252-9060
    • 911

    The Suicide Prevention Coordinator: #

    Since 2007, each VA Medical Center has at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator.  These Coordinators are “… serve to facilitate implementation of suicide prevention strategies at the local level. Activities will include support for the identification of veterans at high risk; coordinating enhanced care when needed; education of providers, veterans, families, and members of the community on risk factors and warning signs for suicide; and [assisting with] treatment options.”  As such they are a mainstay operation and can serve as a “warmline” and, ultimately, those calling the veterans crisis line above will be referred to them.  To contact Wilkes-Barre’s coordinator:  Angelique Cortez, tel: 1-877- 928-2621 Ext. 4934? or 570-709-4934, email:  Angelique.Cortez@va.gov.

    VA Veterans Center Local Outreach Station and National Call Center: #

    VA Veterans Centers operate on an outpatient basis and are a mental health alternative (it also offers employment help and other services) conducted in a non-medical setting.  To arrange for counseling, contact the Scranton Veterans Center: click here. For more information about this service and for alternative locations visit www.vetcenter.va.gov/ It is open to veterans, military servicemembers and their families.

    The Veterans Readjustment Counseling Service also operates a free, around the clock, confidential national call center, tel: 1-877-927-8387, where veterans, servicemembers and their families can talk about their military experience or any other issue they are facing in transitioning after military service or trauma and get connected to their nearest Vet Center.  The center’s team is comprised of combat Veterans from several eras as well as family members of veterans.

    Vets4Warriors Helpline: #

    Vets4Warriors Helpline is modeled on the New Jersey Vet2Vet program and also provided by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – University Behavioral HealthCare, this free helpline offers peer counseling and support by trained veterans, telephone assessments, referrals, and assistance to National Guard and Reserve service members and their family members. Although funded by DoD, it does not discuss your calls with the military, the VA, or anyone else and, if you choose, you may remain anonymous. Call 1-855-VET-TALK (838-8255).

    Give an Hour: #

    Give an Hour is a nonprofit organization which provides a wide range of free mental health services to U.S. military personnel, veterans, and loved ones (uses a broad definition) affected by the current conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, including members of the National Guard and Reserves who have not yet deployed. Providers are mental health professionals, licensed and in good standing. The process begins with using the Visitor portion of their website. There is no phone number to call. Based upon input, the nearest providers’ contact information is given. Has a developed network in the Lehigh Valley.

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    VA’s Five Year Combat Veteran Program #

    Here’s the information you need to know about the VA’s Five-Year Combat Veteran Program if you cannot find it elsewhere. The program applies to you if you were deployed to a combat theater of operations and are within five years of discharge. Even if not considered combat veteran, you should apply under the regular program as early as possible. The earlier you enroll, the easier for you to establish a condition related to service.

    Post 9/11 Case Manager #

    For our area, the Wilkes-Barre Post 911 Transition and Care Management Case Manager (formerly known as the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OEF) Healthcare Program Manager is Neal E. Carey RN, MSN,  tel:  1-877-928-2621 ext. 24558, email: Neal.carey@va.gov

    Although originally intended to assist the seriously injured, the program will help other returning veterans seeking assistance regarding healthcare or related to getting it.

    More can be found at the VA Liaison and Post-9/11 Military2VA (M2VA) Case Management website about this program created to help bridge the gap between the DoD and VHA to support transitioning service members & Post-9/11 era Veterans.  This is primarily about healthcare systems transition, but a holistic approach is taken.

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    VA Patient Advocate
    #

    If you feel your concerns are not being addressed by your treatment team, you may contact a VA Patient Advocate.  A Patient Advocate is an employee who is specifically designated at each VHA facility to manage the feedback received from veterans, family members and friends.  The Patient Advocate works directly with management and employees to facilitate resolutions.  For the most current information on who to contact in the Wilkes-Barre system, click here.

    The Patient Advocate for the Allentown Clinic is Karen Leshko, Administrative Officer, tel: 610-776-4304.

    The Patient Advocate at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center is Nicole Gillen and she can be reached at tel: 570-824-3521 ext. 27604 or 1-877-928-2621 ext. 27604.

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    VA Family Caregiver Program #

    On 9 May 2011, the VA finally rolled out its “Family Caregiver Program” required by the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act 2010.  As of October 2022, it provides for enhanced services to a family caregiver of a veteran who sustained a serious injury, no matter the period of their military service (until the Mission Act of 2018 it was limited to those who served on or after September 11, 2001).

    Aspects of the program are:

    • In-home and community-based care is to be provided. This includes skilled home health care, homemaker home health aide services, community adult day health care and Home Based Primary Care.
    • Respite care services are to be provided. These are designed to relieve the family caregiver, which can include can include in-home care, a short stay in one of VA’s community living centers (the new VA name for nursing homes on VA Medical Center grounds) or adult day health care.
    • Caregiver education and training programs are to be provided. The training includes pre-discharge care instruction and specialized caregiver training for severe traumas such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury or disorders, and blindness.
    • A special caregiver website has been created at www.caregiver.va.gov . It provides information, to include on VA and community resources.
    • Trained, Caregiver Support Coordinators are located at every VA Medical Center. You can use the general VHA number 1-877-222-8273 or the website to locate one … or use the support line in the next bullet.  The designated Coordinator for the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Network, which supports us, can be reached at tel: 570-824-3521 ext. 27697.
    • A National Caregiver Support Line has been created at 1-855-260-3274. Its purposes are counseling and information about resources and services.
    • Caregiver support groups are to be offered – either in a face-to-face setting or on the telephone (one day, web chatlines?)
    • Other caregiver support services are available. Examples are family counseling, spiritual and pastoral care, family leisure and recreational activities and temporary lodging in Fisher Houses.
    • Other existing services will continue – like durable medical equipment and prosthetic and sensory aides to improve function, financial assistance with home modification to improve access and mobility, and transportation assistance for some veterans to and from medical appointments.
    • And finally and at last, the “Primary Family Caregiver” will receive a monthly stipend in addition to other reimbursements (like transportation). The stipend will be received for each prior month’s participation and the amount will be determined by “the veteran’s level of dependency based upon the degree to which the eligible veteran is unable to perform one or more activities of daily living (ADLs) or the degree to which the eligible veteran is in need of supervision or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological or other impairment or injury …”

    The regulation and application is available on the above website and. The veteran must first be enrolled in the VA healthcare system and a separate application for this program is required. Assistance in filling out the form will be provided.

    Sources:
    <http://www.caregiver.va.gov/> Accessed 9 May 2011.
    <http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/?p=2790> Accessed 9 May 2011.

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    VA Home Based Primary Care Program #

    As of September 2014, the Allentown VA Clinic, in addition to the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, offers Home Based Primary Care (HBPC).

    The mission of HBPC is to provide comprehensive, interdisciplinary primary care in the homes of veterans with complex medical conditions when routine, clinic-based care would not be effective or practicable. Consequently, the program focuses on the frail and chronically ill who require interdisciplinary care and ensures the necessary continuity and coordination of the care occurs at home as much as possible. The integration of diverse services such as skilled nursing visits and home health services addressing complex medical, psychosocial, and rehabilitative needs are frequently involved.

    The program does not require your applying and meeting the standards for a home-bound or aid and attendance supplemental monthly increase to a disability pension or service-connected compensation. Instead, the HBPC program targets three types of patients:

    1) Those with chronic complex medical conditions, particularly those at high risk for hospitalization of nursing home placement otherwise;

    2) Those who require palliative care for an advanced disease that is life-limiting and/or resistant to disease-modifying treatment;

    3) Those whose home care needs are expected to be of a short duration or for a focused problem – and whose going to a clinic is not possible until after recovery.

    Presently the Allentown Clinic has one HBPC team which includes a primary care physician, a registered nurse, a licensed physiotherapist and a social worker.  Other disciplines, such as nutrition and psychology, are included as needed.

    When assisting the veteran’s transition from a healthcare facility to home, the team also provides both patient and caregiver education; provides guidance in rehabilitation and use of adaptive equipment; recommends adaptations to the home as needed for a safe and therapeutic environment; and arranges for and coordinates additional supportive services, such as telehealth, in-home hospice, home health aide services and respite care. Therefore, in addition to providing veteran-centered medical and behavioral health care, HBPC is beneficial in assisting and supporting the primary caregiver.

    If you are need of such services, you must be enrolled or automatically entitled to VA healthcare. Contact the Allentown clinic for additional information. Typically, the service is arranged through your primary care provider.

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    Your VA Copays #

    The copayment system of the VA is not well understood and can be complicated.  However, most errors in billing occur as a result of a clinician failing to code the service correctly when service-connection is involved (no copayment in such event), or the hospital staff erroneously overrule him or her.  To understand the system better, refer to the copay charts which are updated annually.  It is updated annually.  To reaffirm what priority group you belong to (important to how copays are determined), click here.

    All this assumes you have no other form of insurance.  However, private insurance or TRICARE, which can be billed, may indeed cover the entire copay cost.  And Priority Group 5 (being financially distressed or indigent) provides yet another twist on whether or not a copay applies..  Click here for more on determining the ultimate cost of care.

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    Locate a TRICARE Service Provider #

    As of 1 January 2018,  Humana Military has replaced HealthNet Federal Services as part of a reorganization into two TRICARE regions.  We we are now part of what is called TRICARE East (we were formerly part of TRICARE North which no longer exists).  To locate a local doctor or other TRICARE service provider under the plan you are currently using and for other information, you can use the Humana Military website above or use the Department of Defense TRICARE website, which is feature rich and logically should be your first source.  To call, use this phone directory site. There no longer appears to be a one-call number for TRICARE as in the past, but the contractor’s TRICARE East number, 1-800-444-5445, ought serve the same purpose for the majority of inquiries.

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    Travel Reimbursement #

    VA travel pay reimbursement pays eligible veterans and caregivers back for mileage and other travel expenses to and from approved health care appointments. To find out if you are eligible and how to file a claim, click here.

    Prosthetic and Sensory Aid Services from the VA #

    Veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system have services available to them of which they are often unaware.  Prosthetics, eyeglasses, and hearing aids are among them, and service-connection is not necessarily a prior condition for eligibility.  The are often under-mentioned benefits.  Go to the VA’s Rehabilitation and Prosthetics Services site.  It is an extensive site on the subject.

    In addition, this is what their Healthcare Benefits Overview  has said on the subject of vision and hearing services:

    VA medical services include diagnostic audiology and diagnostic and preventive eye care services.  VA will provide hearing aids and eyeglasses to Veteran’s who receive increased pension based on the need for regular aid and attendance or being permanently housebound, receive compensation for a service-connected disability, are a former POW, were awarded a Purple Heart, currently enrolled in a Vocational Rehabilitation program, are about to be admitted to a VA Blind Rehabilitation Program, you have a eye or hearing impairment that resulted from the existence of another condition for which you are currently receiving VA care, or which resulted from treatment of the medical condition, or your vision or hearing are so severely impaired that aids are necessary to permit active participation in your own medical treatment. Otherwise, hearing aids and eyeglasses are provided only in special circumstances, and not for normally occurring hearing or vision loss. For additional information, contact the prosthetic representative of your local VA health care facility.

    By these criteria, the availability of these services applies to a broad number of veterans enrolled.

    Very little is mentioned about prosthetics and orthotics in that handbook, but if you cannot find what you want in the the prosthetics link above on the eligibility details on what is traditionally associated with the VA’s prosthetic services, go to the VetsFirst website (a product of the United Spinal Association) on prosthetics as a start point.

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    Last Updated: 24 August 2022 (travel reimbursement update)

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