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How do Mississippi's VA medical centers rate?

If you or a family member relies on a hospital run by the Department of Veterans Affairs for medical care, you now have access to ratings for the 146 VA medical centers across the country. The VA has always rated its facilities on a one-to-five scale in order to determine which ones need improvement, with five being the best. However, late last year, the VA began publishing the information on its website.

The change came last month after an investigation by USA TODAY in which the ratings were published. In addition to the ratings as of June of last year, the VA includes each facility's score from six months prior, so people can see if there's been improvement or decline. The ratings are based on multiple factors, including infection rates, deaths and wait times.

Mississippi's two VA medical centers, Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi and G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, both have a rating of two stars. The Biloxi facility's rating in June of last year was the same as it was at the end of 2015, while the Jackson facility's rating dropped from three to two stars.

When USA TODAY published its findings in December, VA Secretary Bob McDonald expressed concern that the information would cause "unwarranted distress" among veterans and their families and perhaps prevent vets from seeking needed medical care. However, the agency quietly started providing the information on its site shortly thereafter.

Veterans who need medical services may not have the kind of options available to civilians. However, even if your closest VA medical facility has a poor rating, you can take steps to advocate for the best possible care. Don't be afraid to ask questions and express concern if you believe that you or a loved one isn't receiving proper care. You can also investigate your legal options if you believe that you or a family member was harmed by medical professionals in these facilities.

Source: USA Today, "VA reverses course, releases health care quality data," Donovan Slack, accessed Jan. 13, 2017

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