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Veterans of all ages live and work in rural areas. In fact, over 6 million - or 28 percent - of Veterans live in rural areas according to VA's Office of Rural Health. As the percentage of Veterans living in rural areas grows, VA has worked to adapt to fit their unique needs.
"Rural" is another way of saying "sparsely populated," and some rural areas can be hours away from a VA medical center. To manage that distance, My HealtheVet has stepped in to make new strides in online services such as Secure Messaging. This makes it possible for Veterans to exchange messages online with members of their VA health care team.
No More 'Waiting on Someone to Answer the Phone'
Montana is known as "Big Sky Country," and part of the beauty of living there are the state's wide open spaces. But when it comes to accessing medical care, life can be difficult. Montana Veterans such as Mervin Gunderson, Western Region National Vice Commander of The American Legion, have found My HealtheVet to be a valuable tool.
According to Gunderson, "Now I can download all of my medications - something we've never been able to do. There's lots of information. Just perusing through, you'll find helpful suggestions. It's a great resource about VA programs and that's fantastic!"
Not only that, "using My HealtheVet helps eliminate a lot of phone calls - and waiting on the phone for someone to answer," says Gunderson.
James Morrison, a Veteran from the Reno, Nev., area, agrees. "The VA phone system is very difficult to navigate through. Time-wise, it's very hard to get something done My HealtheVet eliminates that."
Morrison was one of the first Veterans to use My HealtheVet and has been using it since the first year it was launched. He recalls that in its first years, My HealtheVet was "not as easy to use - my security system blocked it," but that the website has grown and improved continually.
"Once I learned how to use it," says Morrison, "my experience has been great."
The Importance of Secure Messaging
Morrison lives about 100 miles from the nearest outpatient clinic and 200 miles from the nearest Vet Center. Given that kind of distance, he and other Veterans in rural areas benefit from using Secure Messaging.
Morrison remembers one time when his blood work failed to upload to My HealtheVet after a trip to see his doctor. "Through Secure Messaging, I got ahold of my doctor, who explained the lab report to me."
According to Gunderson, instead of waiting on the phone, with Secure Messaging his "answers were taken care of immediately, and I have documentation of what the doctor said."
Although your primary care team uses Secure Messaging, some other clinics may not have started yet. If you have questions about Secure Messaging, you can talk to your local My HealtheVet Coordinator. If you have other questions about My HealtheVet, they may be able to help with those too.
First Step: Authentication
For VA patients to use the full features of My HealtheVet, such as Secure Messaging, you need to have an upgraded account. To get an upgraded account you must be authenticated. This is done to keep your medical records secure and private by proving your identity.
There are two ways to upgrade your My HealtheVet account:
Upgrade your account in person. This can be done at your local VA Medical Center or Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC)
Upgrade your account online, through www.ebenefits.va.gov. This feature is available for Veterans who have connected their eBenefits DS Logon Premium and My HealtheVet VA Patient accounts
In-Person Authentication (IPA)
Learn more about upgrading your account, and get started today.
According to Mike L'Abbe, My HealtheVet Coordinator for the VA Maine Health Care System, "Remember, every front line Medical Support Assistant (or My HealtheVet Coordinator) can help you upgrade your account. Even if you do not have your form, they will have one for you to sign there."
Would Gunderson and Morrison recommend My HealtheVet to other Veterans? Absolutely.
"Lots of Veterans don't understand how much it can do for them," says Morrison. "People think it takes time to sign up - it doesn't."
For rural Veterans who find trips to the 'local' VA facility a bit too far, My HealtheVet can help them manage their health records and communicate with their health care team from home, online.