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#VAFail: Are veterans seen as just numbers by the VA?

By Concerned Veterans for America

Army veteran Jessica Villarreal once dreamed of helping her fellow servicemen and women at the Department of Veterans Affairs. But instead, what she found was a bureaucratic nightmare. 

“My whole goal is to work with veterans. It’s my population of choice and my passion. I think no one can help a veteran better than their own kind. It helps to be a veteran to help another veteran out,” she said on a recent episode of the American Potential podcast.

The VA’s assembly line approach: A detriment to personalized veteran health care

During her three-year stint as a social worker at the VA, Jessica experienced a hostile work environment where health care delivery became a numbers game rather than meeting veterans’ actual needs.  

“The VA is a numbers game. It’s like an assembly line. We’re just a number going through a system. It’s sad because veterans don’t get the care they need. My life is more valuable than just a number.” 

Jessica was told she could only see patients for 15 minutes. She knew this wasn’t the right way to serve veterans or make them feel heard. 

“That makes no sense to me. My job as a case manager is to see a patient to make sure that all their issues are addressed,” she said about the quick appointment times.  “I was pretty good about not turning away a patient. I had a hard time saying no. I just wanted to help everybody.” 

Villarreal faced resistance from VA doctors who would question her decisions about getting veterans the care they needed. They often challenged her recommendations for specific procedures or services for veterans, claiming they had in-house resources and regularly refusing to complete necessary paperwork. 

“I’m having to fight and justify for the patient by doing chart reviews. This is their choice. They have the right to choose. We’re not meeting the criteria that they need. According to the VA MISSION Act, there’s six different ways you could [do] that.” 

According to the VA MISSION Act, when the VA can’t meet certain wait time, drive time, or care delivery criteria, veterans have the right to take their benefits into the community.  

But as Jessica saw, there are barriers at the VA that keep veterans trapped in the system and away from the care they need. 

It was these barriers that drove Jessica to leave her job at the VA and start working with CVA. If she couldn’t fix the problems veterans were facing on the inside, she would attack the problems at a policy level from the outside. 

How Concerned Veterans for America aims to improve local veteran health care

Currently, Jessica is serving as the grassroots engagement director for Concerned Veterans for America in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Her role primarily involves advocating for veterans, educating, and empowering the community, and bringing awareness to local veteran issues.  

She is focused on teaching veterans how to navigate the MISSION Act and community care, given the VA’s known challenges with implementing them correctly. Her work involves a lot of community engagement, aiming to make CVA a household name in her area.  

Through her struggles and experiences, Jessica has become a louder voice for her fellow veterans. Although her dream job morphed into a bureaucratic debacle, she remains an unwavering advocate, making sure that veterans’ health care needs are not just heard, but are adequately met. 

Listen to the rest of the conversation on American Potential.