New Website Helps Veterans by Functioning as Yelp, but for VA Hospitals

It’s no secret that Veterans Affairs hospitals have faced substantial criticism over the past few years. Now a former Marine is looking to turn the VA’s problems into solutions.

Neil Barrett grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and joined the Marine Corps shortly after graduating high school. After finishing basic training, Barrett was stationed in Southern California. During his five years in the military, from 2003 until 2008, Barrett was deployed to Iraq once for eight months, where he says he suffered a minor back injury after jumping out of a truck with gear on his back.

After being honorably discharged from the military in 2008, Barrett relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. He says he would regularly visit the local VA hospital for his back problem, and was generally pleased with the care that he received there.  

“It’s a great hospital,” Barrett said. “I really felt like I was getting good care there and I felt like I could trust everybody.”

“And then I visited a couple of other VAs throughout the years and I noticed that that was sort of a one off.”

Turns out, his experience in the Bay Area was unusual. “It went well and I had really high hopes for the VA,” Barrett said. “And then I visited a couple of other VAs throughout the years and I noticed that that was sort of a one off.”

Barrett is self-employed and travels often. Sometimes, he’ll visit his family in Louisiana for extended periods, so he’s experienced the VA there as well. Over time, Barrett noticed what he described as “inconsistencies” in quality and care.

When he did have a somewhat negative experience, Barrett decided he would schedule future appointments at a VA facility “that I know will really care for me and really has my best interest in mind.”

The problem? “I have no idea what those hospitals are,” Barrett said.

Enter VAreview.net, the website Barrett hopes is the answer to many of VA’s quality-control problems.

Enter VAreview.net, the website Barrett hopes is the answer to many of VA’s quality-control problems.

Barrett described his website as “sort of a Yelp for the VA,” referring to the popular review website Yelp that allows users to rate private businesses based on their experiences. Like Yelp, Barrett said he hopes VAreview.net can gather information about users’ experiences at a number of VA hospitals so that information can then be shared with other veterans deciding where to receive care.

Barrett added he wants to extend VAreview.net to do more than just identify problems.

“It will become a tool for solving problems as well as identifying them,” Barrett said.

“Essentially, that’s going to be a place where we can discuss the problems that are identified based on the reviews and work through possible solutions to that”

“Essentially, that’s going to be a place where we can discuss the problems that are identified based on the reviews and work through possible solutions to that,” Barrett said, “whether it be sending letters to our congressmen or highlighting the issues that are taking place on a large scale and also just sort of discuss the VAs that are doing it right, maybe discuss the ways we can tell the leadership at the VA ‘pay close attention to this VA because people are happy with the care that they’re receiving whereas at this hospital they’re not, so let’s do something about that.’”

Asked whether he has personally reached out to lawmakers or veteran groups, Barrett replied: “No, and to be honest, I’m not sure that I want to.”

“That would be the traditional approach, and look where that’s gotten us,” Barrett said. The whole idea of VAreview.net is to “get creative and find…a new way.”  

Jon Street is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @JonStreet.