Do you use civilian medical services? Do they know you're a veteran? They should.

Photo credit WCHF

While the VA healthcare system sees about  7 million veteran patients a year, that leaves 13 million in the civilian healthcare system. And, according to the Warrior Centric Health Foundation, those civilian facilities need to be more aware of the needs of veteran patients. 

"Warrior Centric Healthcare Foundation's purpose is primarily to ensure that America delivers on its promise if you will," said Warrior Centric Healthcare Foundation Chair Evelyn Lewis. "That promise is that we would care for those who have borne the battle. It's an adapted statement from Abraham Lincoln's words."

The 501(c)(3) was established in 2013 when Lewis and a research team discovered the problem with veteran identification in the civilian healthcare system. 

"The largest misconception among the general public, and indeed those that run hospitals in other healthcare facilities, is that all veterans get their care at the VA. That is not true," Lewis said. 

And the way that civilian doctors typically identify veterans has some major flaws, according to Lewis. 

Lewis explained that civilian doctors tend to count on insurance, attire and connected services to identify veterans. Veterans who come through the civilian medical system typically have Tricare, wear tattoos or apparel that identify them as veterans, or are receiving certain services through the VA. She uses herself — as a veteran who qualifies for all of her medical services to be taken care of at VA facilities — as an example to show the gaps in the current civilian approach. 

"You would not have seen Tricare on my record, there's nothing in my record from the VA, I don't have tattoos, I don't wear pins on my clothes that say I'm a veteran — so how would you recognize me if you're not asking me if I'm a veteran? If you're not asking those questions, you are not recognizing all the veterans in your footprint," Lewis said. 

And recognizing veteran patients is important for a number of reasons — including the veteran's health. 

"For each of our conflicts, there is an 'Agent Orange.' For Iraq and Afghanistan, it's going to be respiratory issues from burn pits. For older veterans, it's Agent Orange. There are different environmental exposures depending on what era a veteran has served in. So you need to understand what those things are, how they impact your health, and what you need to do in order to be most prepared when going to seek healthcare," Lewis said. 

And Warrior Centric Healthcare Foundation works to make sure veterans have all the information they need to do so. 

"We hold educational forums for veterans themselves, for family members, and for the community members where they live so everyone can have a real understanding of how to best advocate for what's going on with veterans," Lewis said. "We also develop and distribute education and training for providers, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, PAs, pharmacists, etc. that speak to more of the common issues — respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease, lupus, back pain — which we commonly see in the general population but which implicate other additional issues when you overlay the veteran experience."

Veterans with concerns or questions about the healthcare they are receiving from civilian medical facilities can go to the Warrior Centric Healthcare Foundation website to access webinars and other informational content.

Veterans in the D.C. area interested in meeting with Warrior Centric Healthcare Foundation are invited to attend the "Dine to Donate" fundraiser at Cadillac Ranch in National Harbor, Md. on Aug. 26, 2019, from 2-7 p.m.

Want to get more connected to the great stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.