Getting your hand, hip or hearing aid gets quicker at VA

Jonathan Kaupanger
April 05, 2018 - 11:23 am

Photo credit: Sipa USA

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Wait time at VA has been headline news for several years, but some new changes at Veterans Affairs is giving some vets a few extra hours of free time. Veterans wanting appointments with specialty rehabilitation services can now bypass primary care and go directly to amputation care and wheelchair clinics.

“The dedication and support of the multidisciplinary team of VA employees who are implementing these improvements demonstrate their commitment to do the right thing for our veterans,” said Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie. “We are focused on implementing the best solutions to modernize how we deliver rehabilitation and prosthetic service across all VA medical centers – ensuring veterans nationwide are receiving timely and integrated healthcare and support.”

With VA’s direct scheduling, veterans can now go directly to VA’s 137 amputation care and 124 wheelchair clinics. This change also gives veterans same day access to orthoptist/prosthetic clinical services at 141 VA facilities.

VA first started providing prostheses to vets in 1921 and is the largest provider of prosthetic devices in the country. Currently, VA Prosthetics and Sensory Aids Service averages around 638,000 requests for items like artificial limbs and bracing, wheeled mobility and seating systems, sensory-neutral aids like eyeglasses and hearing aids and surgically implanted devices like hips and pacemakers. There are more than 70 state-of-the-art locations across the country where VA custom-fabricates and fits prosthetics for veterans.

VA’s goal is to give veterans prosthetics that restore them to the highest possible level of functioning. Some of the current research projects include everything from high-functioning artificial limbs that are very similar to their natural counterparts to functional electrical stimulation to help weak or paralyzed muscles. 

One incredibly cool project at VA’s Advanced Platform Technology Center in Cleveland is actually giving veterans with prosthetics their sense of touch back. It’s an implanted electrical nerve interface that works on prosthetic hands. There are sensors in the hand that measure pressure when the hand closes around or presses against something. The sensors convert the measurements into electrical signals that are sent to implanted electrodes around nerve bundles in the forearm and upper arm. The brain reads these signals the same way as it did when the veteran had his original hand.

This new change comes after several reports of veterans waiting for more than 30 days just for an appointment. In one instance a veterans had to make several trips to VA offices just to prove that he was still missing a leg. His wait was so long that his wife had to fix his prosthetic leg with duct tape while they waited for VA to approve the repairs.