The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) have strict rules on the confidentiality and release of veterans' medical records.
Notice of Privacy Practices
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), requires the VHA to provide a privacy rights notice to all veterans enrolled in health care benefits every three years. The notice describes patient privacy rights. It explains what a veteran "patient" must do to exercise privacy rights. Finally, the notice states when the VHA may use or disclose information without your written permission.
Your Privacy Rights
You have the right to:
- Review your health information
- A copy of your health information
- Request corrections to your records
- Ask that your records remain private
- Request a list of disclosures of your records
- Request a copy of the VHA's notice of privacy practices
Disclosing Information without Permission
Be aware federal law allows the VHA to use or disclose your health information without your permission for many reasons. For example, disclosure is allowed for treatment and eligibility purposes. Disclosure is allowed for public health reasons. The VHA can disclose your information to report abuse or to help family members.
Disclosure Related to Your Care
The VHA may disclose general information about you to your family and friends. This is done only as necessary, and must be ethical. General information is limited to: verifying identity, describing your condition (i.e. critical, stable, good) and verifying your location in a VHA health care facility.
When you are present, or otherwise available, VHA may disclose information to your next-of- kin, family or other individuals you designate. For example, your doctor may talk to your spouse about your condition at your bedside. Before doing so, they will ask you if you object. They won't make the disclosure if you object.
When you are not present, or are unavailable, the VHA may disclose your health information to your next-of-kin, family and others with a significant relationship to you without your authorization. The VHA must determine the disclosure is in your best interests. Disclosure is limited to information directly relevant to the other person's involvement with your health care or payment for your health care. Examples of this type of disclosure may include questions or discussions about your care.
You can file a complaint with a VHA facility's Privacy Officer if you think your privacy was violated. You can contact the VA via the internet or you can contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights or the Office of Inspector General. It's best to make your complaint in writing, but this isn't required.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Does the Notice of Privacy Practices affect my eligibility for benefits?
- What should I do if I think my privacy rights have been violated?
- Can I give permission for my health information to be disclosed to anyone?