Chapter 8 Patient Rights and Responsibilities

Respect and Nondiscrimination

As part of our service, we are committed to improving the health and well-being of our Veterans. In addition to making visits or stays as pleasant as possible, our employees will respect and support patient rights. As a Veteran enrolled in the VA health care system, some of the patient rights and responsibilities which would apply to your care are outlined here:

You will be treated as an individual — with dignity, compassion, and respect. You will receive care in a safe environment. We will honor your personal and religious values, and your privacy will be protected.
You — and any persons you choose — will be involved in all decisions about your care. You can agree to or refuse treatment, and consider options. Refusing treatment will not affect your rights to future care, but you take responsibility for the possible results.
You may allow a family member, friend, or other individual to be present with you for emotional support during your hospital stay. (NOTE: The presence of a support individual of your choice is allowed, unless that individual’s presence infringes on others’ rights, safety, or is medically or therapeutically contraindicated. This individual may or may not be your surrogate decision maker or legally authorized representative.)
You will be given the name and title of all providers involved in your care, including students and trainees.

If you believe you cannot follow the treatment plan, you have a responsibility to notify your provider or treatment team.
You have the right to have your pain assessed, to receive treatment to manage your pain, and to participate in developing a pain management plan.
You have the right to choose whether you will participate in any research project related to your treatment.
You will be involved in resolving any ethical issues about your care — including participation in decision- making and care at the end of life — and you may seek guidance from your health care facility’s Medical Ethics Consultation Service.
In order to maintain a safe environment in all VA health care facilities, we expect you to show respect for others — whether patients, residents, or staff — and to follow the facility’s rules.
Veterans Health Administration (VHA) prohibits discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, language, physical or mental disability, socioeconomic status, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression.

Keeping Health Information Private and Secure

VA keeps all of the information in medical records confidential. No information will ever be released without consent unless required or authorized by law.

As a Veteran enrolled in the VA health care system, some of the privacy rights which would apply to your care are outlined here:
Right to a Notice of Privacy Practice – You have a right to know how VA uses and discloses your information.  VHA’s Notice of Privacy Practice outlines all the general purposes for which VA uses or discloses your information. A copy of this Notice can be found at
Right to Request Amendment – You have a right to request that information about you be amended, if you feel that it is incorrect or inaccurate, not timely, or not relevant to the services you receive from VA. If you request an amendment and it is not approved, you have the right to appeal that decision to the VA Office of General Counsel.
Right to Access Record – You have a right to access your records. VA will provide you with access to these records in any reasonable format, or will have a VA employee show you your record on a VA computer.
Right to Request Restriction – You have a right to request that your information not be shared with certain individuals or organizations. (There are some individuals or organizations that VA cannot withhold information even if you request it, such as reporting required by law.) If your restriction request is not granted, VA will let you know and provide you with appeals rights.
Right to Confidential Communication – You have a right to request that VA provide you with a confidential means of getting information. This may be in the form of a specific address that you wish VA to use or a particular phone contact number for calls.
Right to Opt-out of Facility Directory – If you are admitted to a VA health care facility as an inpatient, you have the right to request that you not be included in the facility directory. If you opt-out of the directory, VA will not acknowledge that you are admitted to that hospital. However, if you do not want to acknowledge you have been admitted, VA will not be able to share any information as to your whereabouts — with even your family — or accept mail or other packages or flowers. Your VA facility will explain this more fully to you if you are admitted as an inpatient.
Right to an Accounting of Disclosures – You have a right to request a list of all disclosures of your information made to anyone outside of VA. We keep a record of all disclosures so that it can provide you with an accounting upon request.
Right to File a Privacy Complaint – If you believe that your privacy rights have been denied, or that VA has not protected your information according to the law, you have a right to file a complaint in various ways. You may complain to the Privacy Officer at your local VA Medical Center, or you can complain to the VHA Privacy Officer, whose contact information is in the Notice of Privacy Practices. You may also file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights if you believe that your privacy rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule have been denied.

Protect your own privacy. Never just throw away a prescription bottle or papers. Never give out your Social Security Number over the telephone – even if someone claiming to be from VA calls you. VA will never ask you for your Social Security Number over the telephone. If you request copies of your records, keep them in a safe and secure place; people could learn things about you or your care that you do not want them to know.

Partnering in Care

VA is committed to providing Veteran-centered care. We will focus our efforts on giving Veterans what they need.  We will coordinate care to make sure each Veterans receives the right care, at the right time, in the right setting. In addition to explaining health problems and treatment options in easily understandable language, our care providers will educate about self-care and explain how to manage health problems.

We know that patients who are actively involved in their health care will experience better results and feel more satisfied with their care. There are many ways for Veterans and their VA providers to work together, and the approaches to treatment may change over time. By keeping the communication channels open, we can build a partnership that meets patient needs and offers our Veterans the best possible outcomes.

Concerns, Complaints, and Compliments

While at the local VA health care facility, we encourage you to seek help from a Patient Advocate if:

        You have problems
        You have complaints
        You feel that you have been neglected
        You feel that you have been abused
        You feel that you have been exploited

Patient Advocate

The Patient Advocate’s job is to help resolve your issues. We want you and your family to have someone to go to for open discussion about your concerns and complaints — or to offer a compliment.

Family Involvement in Your Health Care

Support from family members can help you recover from or manage serious health problems, and they can assist you in maintaining healthy living habits. It is up to you to make the decision on who you choose to rely on for emotional support or involvement in your care.

Can My Family Take an Active Role in My Treatment Decisions?

Yes. Once enrolled in the VA health care system, family members can help you prepare for your VA appointments and help you think of questions you need to ask. If you wish, a family member can accompany you to your medical appointments. Having another person there to hear explanations, receive instructions, and ask questions can be reassuring.

At home, they can remind you to follow the treatment plan. We encourage you to give permission to your providers to discuss aspects of your health problems or health care with your family. When you are able to make your own treatment decisions, your family can help you as much or as little as you choose. You’re in charge.

How Can My Family Members Share Their Concerns or Complaints About My Care?

Your family members can seek help from a Patient Advocate if they have concerns or complaints about your care. They may complain verbally or in writing through the Patient Advocate.

What if I am an Inpatient at a VA Medical Facility or a Community Living Center (Formerly Known as a VA Nursing Home) Resident?

Once you enroll, if you are an inpatient or Community Living Center resident, you have the right to communicate freely and privately. You may receive or refuse visitors, and you will have access to public telephones. Additionally:
You have the right to social interaction and regular exercise. If you choose, you will have the opportunity to worship in accordance with your beliefs and to request spiritual support.

You may participate in civic activities, such as exercising your right to free speech or to vote in elections.
You can organize and take part in resident groups in the facility, and your family can meet with the families of other residents.
You are to avoid unsafe acts that may place you or others at risk for accidents or injuries. You may wear your own clothes and keep personal items, as appropriate, depending on your medical condition.
You or someone you choose has the right to keep and spend your money. You will receive an accounting of any funds VA holds for you.
While providing treatment, we will respect your personal freedoms. In rare cases, medication or physical restraints may be used, if all other efforts to keep you or others free from harm have not worked.

Advance Directives: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

If a Veteran is not able to make his or her own treatment decisions, then someone must stand in and make decisions on his or her behalf. The best way for you to make sure that your wishes are followed is to set up directives in advance, while you are able to make your wishes known.

An Advance Directive is a written statement regarding your preferences about future health care decisions if you are unable to make them yourself. This helps your providers and family understand your wishes about your health care, and it can help them decide about treatments if you are too ill to decide for yourself. There are two types of Advance Directives:
         Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
         Living Will

What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?

A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care lets you name a person you trust to act as your health care agent — to make health care decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. That person should be someone who knows you well and is willing to serve as your health care agent. If you do not choose a health care agent, your doctor will select the appropriate person to make decisions for you, based on an established order as follows:

         Health Care Agent
         Legal guardian or special guardian

Next-of-kin (a close relative, 18 years of age or older, in the following order of priority: spouse; child; parent; sibling; grandparent; grandchild) or close friend.

What is a Living Will?

A living will is a type of Advance Directive in which you indicate your personal preferences regarding future treatment options. A living will typically includes your preferences about life-sustaining treatment, but it may also include preferences about other types of health care.

Should I Have an Advance Directive?

It’s up to you to decide if you want an Advance Directive. An Advance Directive helps protect your right to make your own choices — to make sure your values and wishes are respected if you can’t speak for yourself. Some people name a health care agent and also complete a living will. You can decide how general or specific you want your instructions to be.

What Should I Do with My Advance Directive?

Give a copy of your Advance Directive to your health care agent and your health care providers so that it can be placed in your medical record. You should also keep a copy for yourself — along with your other important papers — in a safe place.

Can My Advance Directive be Changed?

Yes, but only by you. You may change or revoke it at any time. If you make changes, give the new version to the people listed above.

Where Can I Get the Advance Directive Form?

VA’s Advance Directive form (VA Form 10-0137, VA Advance Directive) can be downloaded from the VA website:  or at the My HealtheVet website: