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Law Educator, Esq.
Law Educator, Esq., Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 116780
Experience:  JA Mentor -Attorney Labor/employment, corporate, sports law, admiralty/maritime and civil rights law
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I'm a VA employee, working wit Veterans. Often times we see

Customer Question

I'm a VA employee, working wit Veterans. Often times we see the spouse and other supportive members. The only type of consent and privacy policy letter they sign is a brief "rights and Responsibilities", it does not go into great detail. I'm told that the Veteran is the member being served, but we often times see the other member as well. I'm told that the Veteran "owns" the records, the other member is there just in a supportive role. But at the same time we often see the other person individually. I'm confused, this does not give the other person any confidentiality. Advice on this would be greatly appreciated.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for your question. I look forward to working with you to provide you the information you are seeking for educational purposes only.

Anytime you are seeing any patient as a social worker, counselor or other type of "healthcare provider" HIPAA applies. The government also has to abide by HIPAA and they are not excluded under the law if they are providing "healthcare" which includes mental health counseling. Every VA hospital is supposed to have a HIPAA Compliance Office. If your HIPAA compliance officer is not responding to this matter, then you need to refer the matter to the US Department of Health and Human Services, since they are the sole agency that has authority to investigate and enforce HIPAA.

It depends on the information you are obtaining from the other person and if you are providing them any type of healthcare, then HIPAA applies to them. So you need to go through your HIPAA compliance officer, sending them the request in writing to create documentation and if you get no response, you need to refer this to the US DHHS for investigation.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I received an email from the folks I work for stating "your not treating the other person, only the Veteran", there is no policy, simply phone calls and an occasional email. but in my circumstance, working at a Vet Center, we see couples, work with children, etc. The Team Leader says not to worry, its all good, we work for the VA! I'm worried about a HIPPA violation or a complaint to my board. Many of the couples I work with are ready to divorce, I can see an issue here.
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for your reply.

If you are not providing healthcare services to the other person, HIPAA does not apply. If there are healthcare services provided it does indeed apply. Once your Compliance Office says it does not apply, even if it does, you are personally absolved from liability for following your compliance office directive. However, if you are indeed providing healthcare services to these people, your compliance office is wrong and you would need to take the next step and report it to the US DHHS for investigation as this is under their sole authority.

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