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What You Should Know About Advance Directives

A female veteran discusses her advance directive with a health care professional

An Advance Directive helps your doctors and family members understand your wishes for medical and mental health care. It helps them to decide about treatments if you are too ill to decide for yourself – for example, if you are unconscious or too weak to talk.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What You Should Know about Advance Directives

As a VA patient, it is important to become actively involved in your health care. If you are ill, your doctor will explain the available treatments and will work with you to decide which one is best for you.  If you are too ill to understand your treatment choices or to tell your doctor what treatment you want:

• Who would you want to make these decisions for you?
• What type of health care would you want?

Questions like these may be hard to think about, but they are important. VA wants you to know about an important legal form known as an Advance Directive.

What is an Advance Directive?

An Advance Directive helps your doctors and family members understand your wishes for medical and mental health care. It helps them to decide about treatments if you are too ill to decide for yourself – for example, if you are unconscious or too weak to talk. There are two parts of an Advance Directive: the durable power of attorney for health care and the living will.

What is a DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY for health care?

A durable power of attorney for health care lets you name a health care agent that will have the legal right to make your health care decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. You can choose any willing adult to make your health care decisions.  Choose someone you trust and who knows you and your values. If you do not choose an agent, someone will be chosen to make decisions for you in the following order: legal guardian (if you have one), spouse, adult child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or a close friend. If none are available, your VA health care team or a court will make decisions for you in accordance with VA policy.

What is a LIVING WILL?

A living will is a legal form that states the kinds of treatments you would or would not want if you became ill and could not decide for yourself. Writing down what kind of treatment you would or would not want can make it easier for those who are asked to make decisions for you.

Do I Really Need an Advance Directive?

Yes! An advance directive lets your wishes be known and helps speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself.  It protects your right to make your own choices. Your advance directive is used only when you are not able to make decisions for yourself and can be changed or cancelled at any time.  Talk with your health care team to find out the process.

How do I complete an advance directive?

Fill out VA Form 10-0137, "VA Advance Directive: Durable Power of Attorney and Living Will" that is available at the Miami VA Healthcare System. Talk to your VA health care team. They can help you fill out the form and will make your advance directive part of your medical record. You can also call 305-575-7000, ext. 4236, to speak with a social worker. To download VA Form 10-0137, visit www.va.gov/vaforms/medical/pdf/vha-10-0137-fill.pdf.

For more articles on health and wellness, check out the Winter 2015 issue of Veterans Health Matters online in English and Spanish.

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