Long Distance Physical — VA’s medical team in Okinawa examined approximately 39 Veterans and completed over 240 different types of examinations, decreasing the number of pending disability claims.
VA collects medical evidence to process disability claims
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reaching out to Veterans in new and innovative ways every day. From telehealth initiatives to rural Veterans outreach, VA is going the extra mile to ensure Veterans receive the care they’ve earned. Now, VA is taking it a few steps, or 7,666 miles, further.
For the first time, VA has implemented a program to travel to Okinawa, Japan, to provide compensation and pension examinations to U. S. Veterans.
“When a Veteran submits a disability claim to VA, often we need an examination of the Veteran before we can process the claim,” explained Beth McCoy, a Veterans Benefits Administration employee based in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Pittsburgh Regional Office has the unique mission of processing disability claims for Veterans living overseas in Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe.
“This mission to Okinawa is a shining example of how VA is reaching out to Veterans.”
— Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki
“We need to collect medical evidence relevant to the claim,” McCoy continued. “Normally it’s not a big deal. But if you happen to be a Veteran living in a foreign country, things can get a bit complicated. We don’t have VA doctors or facilities overseas, so it’s been a challenge for us to conduct these examinations.”
McCoy said that if VA is unable to conduct the examination in a timely manner, the Veteran’s claim gets delayed. “We’re trying to remedy that now by working with the Veterans Health Administration to send a VA team overseas, to where the Veteran lives,” she said. “If the Veteran can’t come to us, we’ll go to the Veteran.”
Jason Brown, Foreign Team Supervisor at the Pittsburgh Regional Office, said his group has worked closely with the U.S. Consulate Office in Naha, Japan, to identify local physicians to conduct examinations. Due to language barrier issues, however, many local physicians are unwilling to conduct examinations.
“The vast majority of examinations have been completed at the Camp Lester U.S. Naval Hospital, Okinawa,” Brown said. “Due to the high demand, there is a significant backlog. We felt we needed to find a way to eliminate that backlog.”
Dr. Gerald Cross, chief officer for VA’s Office of Disability and Medical Assessment, sent Patricia Jenkins, a VA nurse practitioner certified in providing disability evaluations, to Okinawa to join up with the team at Camp Lester.
“They worked in collaboration with the U.S. Naval Hospital in Camp Lester, Okinawa, for three weeks this past June,” Cross said. “During that time the team examined nearly 40 Veterans and completed more than 240 different types of examinations, substantially decreasing the current number of pending claims in that region.”
“We are proud to personally deliver these services to our Veterans living abroad,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This mission to Okinawa is a shining example of how VA is reaching out to Veterans in unprecedented ways to help them get the benefits they have earned.”
The initiative was temporarily delayed in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake in Japan. In the interim, VA conducted the first international C&P examination in Okinawa using telehealth on April 13.
To date, six Veterans have participated in a remote C&P examination between VA’s National Telemental Health Center and the U.S. Naval Hospital in Okinawa.
VA uses this technology to reduce the number of Veterans awaiting exams overseas and to ease the burden of travel.