By Judith Johnson-Mekota | Health Care column

Health care in America is constantly changing. As private health care delivery models transform, one question that frequently comes to mind is, “Why should I choose VA for my health care?”

I chose VA as my employer almost 30 years ago, with some trepidation. My personal experience with VA health care started when I was in seventh grade visiting my father who was an inpatient at Iowa City. He was undergoing treatment for leukemia. My father had a surgical procedure with an unanticipated outcome which resulted in his death.

I have many memories of my father in the Iowa City VA hospital. The sights, sounds and smells were all overwhelming for a 12-year-old girl. My favorite memory of that time was the fellow veterans in the hospital. They reached out and helped our family through a very difficult time. So, I choose VA to honor the legacy of my father and to continue to advocate for excellent health care for veterans.

Choosing health care is a decision for all of us in some phase of our life. That choice may include what type of plan best fits our needs and values. The Veterans Health Administration has been a unique player in the health care market in several ways. It establishes a lifetime relationship with veteran patients; once they are enrolled, that care follows them wherever they go for as long as they elect to receive it.

One example that illustrates this relationship is through a disaster in 2005 related to Hurricane Katrina which relocated thousands of veterans. Veterans were showing up in the emergency departments and primary care clinics across the country seeking care and services from VA, and Iowa City was no exception. Fortunately, the Iowa City VA was able to retrieve those patients’ records through the electronic health records system and provide continuous care.

This lifetime relationship also improves outcomes and wellness for the patient population. It makes good economic sense for VA to be heavily invested in preventative care, like smoking cessation, pre-diabetes screening, influenza vaccinations and health and wellness programs that both increase the quality of life for patients and save on long-term care costs.

Another unique element of VA care and service is a commitment to the mission “..to care for those who have borne the battle.” About a third of the staff are veterans, who have lived that mission and strive to continue caring throughout the life of a veteran. We serve a unique patient population, and although there are many common needs with the community, we are working on ensuring that we can provide the best care possible.

A dedicated base of volunteers help personalize every patient experience. Volunteers drive patients to appointments, and staff interacts with the patients and volunteers with the knowledge that each person has a unique story and experience. The “No Veteran Dies Alone” program ensures that terminally ill patients will have someone at the bedside during their stay. The “My Life, My Story” program captures patients’ stories and charts them for providers and clinicians.

If you are a veteran or care for one, I hope that you will see the value in what we do and choose VA. If you are a health care professional, consider VA as a career with purpose. If you are someone with a passion for veterans who can invest some time, choose VA for your volunteer opportunities. If you are a local business or health care organization, let us know how we can partner with you to better serve the population of veterans in your area. There are many reasons to choose VA, and I do it every day.

Judith Johnson-Mekota is the director of the Iowa City VA Health Care System.