Imagine that your only options for refilling a medication were driving long distances to a facility where you might wait in line for more than an hour, or a mail order service that does not allow for in-person consultations with a pharmacist. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many of our nation’s veterans, and it is time for reforms that can offer veterans and their families better access to the treatments they need.

As an Air Force veteran and a pharmacist, I know how inconvenient the current prescription system is for some beneficiaries of Tricare, the military’s health care program for veterans, active-duty servicemembers and their families. Not only can it be inefficient, but it omits a key element of patient care — access to in-person pharmacist consultations — discussions that can sometimes uncover potentially dangerous drug interactions and side effects for patients.

While serving in the military, I experienced firsthand the difficulty Tricare beneficiaries can have when it comes to obtaining medications and speaking with pharmacists. To pick up my prescriptions while stationed in South Carolina, I either had to drive to one of the state’s five military treatment facilities (MTFs) or use a mail order service — both of which led to unnecessary headaches and long wait times.

In one instance, despite being the first patient to arrive at my MTF, I waited 90 minutes to get a single prescription. Making matters even more inconvenient, patients cannot leave the MTF to run other errands while they’re waiting; instead, they need to grab a ticket and wait at the facility until their number is called.

My experience with mail order was equally inconvenient, resulting in long waits on the phone and confusion when trying to obtain specific information about my prescriptions. In fact, in one case, I eventually gave up on receiving a prescription by mail and instead went to my local pharmacy — using a coupon to help make up the higher drug costs for Tricare beneficiaries who decide to visit their pharmacist rather than dealing with hassles of MTFs and mail order.

Military members and their families deserve access to better options, including the ability to pick up their medicine at their local retail pharmacy without having to pay more — just like most other patients across the country.

As a pharmacist, I believe giving Tricare beneficiaries access to retail pharmacies, where they can build relationships with local pharmacists, is critical for ensuring better health outcomes and avoiding potentially harmful — even deadly — complications that can arise when taking certain prescriptions.

Having experienced both sides of the Tricare prescription drug system, it’s clear that the program must be reformed to provide better service to veterans, servicemembers and their families. I hope the Defense Department will work this year to establish a retail pharmacy pilot program that will open the door to better care for those who have sacrificed so much.

Allie Butler, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is a Walmart pharmacist in the Tacoma, Wash., area.

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