PAs Care for Veterans: 2.7 Million Unique Patient Encounters

Military PAs and VA PAs Support Service Men and Women

By Rubina DaSilva, MBA-HC, PA-C, DFAAPA

November 11, 2018

Rubina DaSilvaThere are approximately 19 million living veterans in the United States today, and over 9 million of them are enrolled in the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare program. The VA’s mission is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to America’s veterans: “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan.”1 The VA healthcare system consists of over 1,400 facilities today, including 172 VA Medical Centers and 1,243 outpatient sites. The VA healthcare system provides a wide range of services including traditional hospital-based services and additional medical and surgical specialty services.2 The VA recognizes the integral role PAs play in the nation’s healthcare; more than 2,400 PAs work throughout the country at these VA facilities, helping to provide valuable care to our nation’s service men and women. Approximately 28% of PAs working in the VA are veterans.

PAs are an integral part of the VA healthcare system and a critical component of VA’s strategy to expand healthcare access to veterans. Within the VA, PAs are involved in every specialty of the healthcare system such as primary care providers, geriatrics, emergency medicine, medical and surgical subspecialties, rehabilitation, mental health, and occupational medicine. They can be found in every aspect of clinical care, administration, research, leadership, and supervisory positions. PAs examine veterans, prescribe medication, develop treatment plans, and then follow the progress of their care over time.

Given the excellent high-quality care PAs provide, I’m surprised at the lack of awareness of what PAs can do with our vast skills and experiences. We estimate that every veteran receiving care within the VA has had at least one encounter with a PA; PAs had 2,746,631 unique patient encounters last year alone.

I’ve been a PA for 17 years, and am a veteran myself. I’ve been working for the VA for the past 11 years. My favorite part of being a VA PA is taking care of fellow veterans. I’m married to a combat veteran and am close friends with a lot of veterans – I feel an immediate connection to this special community and have a high level of understanding of veterans and their needs. The most rewarding part is connecting with vets, helping them to access care, being a part of their treatment, and seeing them improve.

I’m also a passionate PA advocate and am president of the Veterans Affairs Physician Assistant Association (VAPAA). When I first started working at the VA in 2007, I quickly realized the importance of VAPAA. Its mission is exclusively dedicated to the issues and interests of PAs who work for the VA. The work we do directly impacts our professional status with our employer. Whether you’re a VA PA or not, I encourage you to find out more about your local constituent organization or your specialty organization. There are many ways you get can involved in advancing the PA profession.

Each November 11, we celebrate the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans. Whether you’re a currently serving PA, or you’re one of the thousands of PAs supporting the troops at home, I hope you’ll take a moment this weekend to enjoy the thanks of a grateful nation.

Rubina DaSilva, MBA-HC, PA-C, DFAAPA, a Navy veteran, practices at the Houston VA and is the president of the Veterans Affairs Physician Assistant Association.

References:
1. About VA. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.va.gov/ABOUT_VA/index.asp. Accessed November 1, 2018.
2. Veterans Health Administration. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.va.gov/health/. Accessed November 1, 2018.