While Americans honored fallen soldiers last week in observation of Memorial Day, ire continued to grow among the community of living veterans upset by the controversy swirling around the hospital charged with caring for them after they complete their service to their country.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is currently under fire for claims that hospitals in Phoenix, Ariz., used secret lists to conceal wait times for care that surpassed the maximum 14-day period. And now about 26 other facilities are being scrutinized because of claims of significant wait times for veterans to be seen at the hospitals.
It is cause of concern for some veteran groups in Birmingham, whose leaders said the Department of Veterans Affairs need to regroup so that former soldiers can get the care they need.
The calls from Birmingham area veterans come in weekly to Joel Radford, Commander of the American Legion Post 134 in Homewood.
While Birmingham’s VA hospital has not been singled out for claims of a backlog of patients, Radford said he hears enough complaints to know that the issues faced at other VA hospitals are also of concern for Birmingham vets.
“I hear three to five times a week: I can’t get anyone to return my call at the VA. I don’t think it is deliberate,” Radford said. “They just can’t process the number of claims they receive.”
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki recently said VA medical centers provides care for over 8.9 million veterans enrolled in VA healthcare and that VHA conducts approximately 236,000 outpatient healthcare appointments. The VHA has also added 2 million more veterans to its patient roster, and that, according to Radford is the problem.
The solution, he said, is to allow veterans to seek care at private hospitals. Lawmakers are currently exploring expanding healthcare for veterans through private hospitals.
“The VA hospital is not the problem,” Radford said. “When they finally get into the system, they receive excellent care.”
For vet Joe Lockett, his experience with the local VA hospital has been positive.
“They took good care of me,” he said. “My treatment there has been great and I had a health scare and had no problems being seen.
“Did I get all the benefits I wanted? No,” he added.
Lockett, a small business owner and radio and television personality who served in Operation Desert Storm, said he still sees problems for veterans as soon as they come home. With a growing number of soldiers leaving the war and military life, he said just celebrating veterans on holidays such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day is not enough.
“We get care packages while we were deployed, but when we come back home nobody cares,” Lockett said.
Lockett believes that more needs to be done to educate veterans and prepare them for life in “the real world, outside of the military.”
Charles R. Long, a Birmingham area veteran, agreed. “There is much that can be done to help veterans beyond current veteran’s programs. Programs to help vets with things like housing, healthcare and education that have been around since the Second World War are very generous and have helped many vets get back to civilian life after their service. But too many have fallen through the cracks and the biggest crack in my opinion is the division between the military and the VA,” he said.
“While in the military, service members are well taken care of by their respective branches. But when they leave the military the VA is not equipped to provide that same kind of care and many young men and women find themselves thrust into civilian life with no preparation for how to take care of themselves.”
Editor’s note: In the wake of ongoing allegations, the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued number of statements pointing to efforts to improve how patients are given care. This is a blog from the website Vantage Point: Dispatches from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Following that, some of the responses from people who want to access VA benefits.
By Yvonne Levardi
On Wednesday, May 21, following President Obama’s statement regarding outreach to Veterans currently waiting for appointments, Secretary Shinseki directed Veterans Health Administration (VHA) leadership to personally review their processes to ensure that VA is doing everything possible to schedule Veteran patients for their appointments.
VA has redoubled efforts to provide quality care to Veterans and has taken steps at national and local levels to ensure timely access to care. VHA has delivered a coordinated, system-wide initiative to accelerate care to Veterans and promptly communicated this to leadership in the field on May 22, with implementation occurring the morning of May 23. Each of our facilities is either enhancing their clinic capacity to help Veterans get care sooner, or where we cannot increase capacity, increasing the care we acquire in the community through non-VA care. Each of our facilities is reaching out go Veterans to coordinate the acceleration of their care.
- VA health care facilities are systematically reviewing clinic capacity in an effort to maximize our ability to provide Veterans medical appointments when, and in the manner they want them.
- Activities being reviewed to maximize our abilities include:
- Capacity and efficiency assessments
- Ensuring Primary Care clinic panels are correctly sized and achieving the desired level of productivity
- Extending or flexing clinic hours on nights and weekends
- Ability for overtime for providers
- Assessing the availability of community providers to provide the care being requested
- Identification of resources required to provide timely care for Veterans.
The VA health care system was established to provide the health care and benefits Veterans have earned and deserve. Veterans and Veteran Service Organizations know the importance of a VA health care system dedicated to serving Veterans, given VA’s mission, expertise and focus on care specifically for Veterans. For instance, VA offers specialty services and expertise in the areas of mental health, spinal cord injury, and many other areas that are unique to VA health care delivery and hard to find outside VA.
The first eight of 68 comments in reaction to Levardi’s blog (unedited):
Marsha Evans says:
What about “Existing Patients” (in the system) who can’t access care fore acute illnesses and no one even documents repeated calls for care?? It’s not just about ‘secret lists’!! There is no way to investigate these issues, since it isn’t documented anywhere! I was told “You HAD your annual visit”!! Priority One, 100% Service Connected, P&T. and can’t get care!!
Kevin Fahy says:
I was told I have a diseased artery to in my leg. I get an appointment with a vascular surgeon on September 11. That’s accelerated? The inflammation this creates has degenerated my ankle and bones on my foot. It only took 5 years for the vascular surgeon consult. That’s accelerated? It took getting a fourth blood clot in the same vein to get fast tracked. Meanwhile I am waiting for consult for 3 herniated discs in my back for 3 years. That’s accelerated?
Laszlo Mathe says:
I feel your pain. Even though mine wasn’t as bad as yours but having to wait 6 months for an MRI and then another 6 for surgery is too much to ask for. Even better the clinic is limited and I have to drive 3 hours to get to the hospital. The drive isn’t all too bad as long as it is warm it is a pain when covered in snow. The area I live in has a small clinic and there is over 30,000 vets in the area. The numbers are off it cost more to send us over than it would to have a small hospital for us here.
I’m a desert Storm marine and suffer with skin problems, basal problems as well. The VA acknowledged my skin problems but denied my nasal issues. I breathe oil and other chemicals for months but the VA says I have no proof. Unbelievable…. I came defend the country from attack but the country refuses to take care of us once we return broken. Way to go…Veteran Affairs, thanks for nothing…
Edward L Lester says:
Well. I am out of blood pressure meds , soon be out of others as well.
I wrote the SALEM VA facility pharmacy that I was out of blood pressure meds over a week ago.
Still no meds .
I haven’t had an appointment for over a year yet meds I take
require liver tests ….
May not seem like much of a problem to you , but to me it is very real.
Richard Collura says:
When will you pay me the $8,100 in college benefits you OWE ME FOR MY HONORABLE SERVICE!
I got out of the military after 7 yrs of active duty service. When I registered with the VA as soon as I departed the military the VA sent me a letter saying I made too much money the year prior to get seen in VA facilities and would have to wait on my disability determination to recieve health care through them. I thought this was ridiculous. At the time I applied, I couldn’t find a job to accommodate my disability and I’m a single mom of two kids, but I made too much money the year prior? I’ve been waiting on my disability determination since October. I get a letter every so often saying they are still working on it.