Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 12, 2014

Most vets satisfied with area VA services

TAHLEQUAH — An internal audit of the Veterans Administration hospitals has created outrage across the country, with 57,000 new veterans waiting as long as 90 days for initial appointments.

But two local residents – former Sen. Jim Wilson and Dennis Parrott, both Vietnam veterans – say they have no complaints with Muskogee’s Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center or its clinics.

The official VA audit report reveals that, as of May 15, 22,595 veterans had appointments with JCMVAMC. The average wait time for an appointment for a new primary care patient is 30.54 days. Wait time for an established primary care patient is 2.26, both far below the 90-day wait time revealed in the overall report.

James R. Floyd, director of JCMVAMC in Muskogee, said some clinics are experiencing high demand, and the center is also looking to fill vacancies in its medical staff.

“At the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center, we have very dedicated staff who work hard to get patients scheduled in a timely manner,” said Floyd. “We review wait times every morning, and we are always looking for ways to improve access. We are experiencing high demand in some of our clinics, such as dental, pain management and optometry. We have some vacancies we are actively recruiting to fill.”

Parrott, who was wounded twice during his service in Vietnam, holds two purple hearts and is active in the Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations. He has worked as a volunteer with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, filing claims for veterans.

“I was with them for two to three years, filing claims, and was also with them as a war commissioner for nine years,” said Parrott. “The war commission oversees the state veterans hospitals.”

Parrott said he’s confident in the care available to veterans in this area.

“I don’t think we have the kinds of issues they’re having in other places,” said Parrott. “We have a good VA system here. I don’t know all the nitty-gritty, in-the-closet secrets, but I have been a patient since 1995, and I haven’t a single complaint to register.”

Parent said that in his work at the state capitol, he’s been approached by other news organizations to tell his story.

“When I tell them I have no complaints, they’re not interested in talking to me,” said Parrott. “Some guys get aggravated because they have to wait, but sometimes, it’s because they forgot to call. A lot of times, the finger can be pointed back at us.”

Michael Stopp, also a veteran, said his experience with the VA hasn’t been quite as rosy. Stopp was injured during training, and served in the U.S. Army from 1998-2004.

“I have had nothing but problems with the VA since I got out,” said Stopp. “It was my experience with them and watching the experiences of others that finally motivated me to get into politics,” said Stopp. “I just recently learned that an appeal I had with the VA over a mistake they made was ruled in my favor by the appeals board. However, the department within the VA responsible for the mistake is refusing to comply with the board’s finding. After five years, I am back to square one.”

Wilson flew helicopters in Vietnam, and while he has access to Medicare, as well as a “generous supplemental insurance policy,” he chooses to seek care through the VA.

“I have used the Muskogee VA facilities for several years,” said Wilson. “I think its approach to providing health care is unparalleled in the United States. Unlike much of the private sector, where ability to pay may contradict best practices by doing too little or too much, the VA practitioners will diagnose and treat a malady without any thought of loss or profit. They will spend the amount of time and money necessary to properly diagnose and treat patients.”

Wilson said he chooses the VA because it uses a managed care model and evidence-based treatment.

“It uses comprehensive electronic medical records, which offer significant benefits for patients,” said Wilson. “For instance, because of electronic medical records, the VA was able to identify a cluster of heart attacks among Vioxx users, causing it to cease using the drug fully two years before the FDA ordered it removed from the market.”

Wilson believes the current issues are based on the ability of the VA to assign new patients to a primary care team.

“Once assigned, treatment is as methodical as with long-time users of the VA health system,” said Wilson. “Understandably, Vietnam veterans are at the age where health care needs increase. Many have never had a medical home; some have serious issues developing and turn to the VA because they lack resources to pursue their concerns with the private sector.”

Wilson agrees the VA administrators have mishandled the backlog.

“They should have included Congress in their plight to acquire more resources,” said Wilson. “I can understand, however, that politicians and agency heads would much rather ‘order’ the front-line people to ‘make do’ with their resources than ask an austerity-obsessed politician for additional resources.”

Floyd said the Muskogee VA has over 37,000 veterans enrolled in its system, and it sees an average of 1,300 patients a day at its four sites, including Muskogee, Tulsa, Hartshorne and Vinita.

“The report that was released shows we see 98 percent of our patients within 14 days,” said Floyd. “The 500 veterans who are waiting longer than 30 days could be for a number of reasons. Their provider may have stated they do not need to be seen for 90 days. The veteran could have made the appointment for greater than 30 days. But, regardless, we are contacting all of these patients to see if they need to be seen sooner.”

Wilson said other media outlets have indicated up to 40 veterans died waiting for services over the past year or two.

“In perspective, 45,000 people die each year in this country because they have no insurance, which translates into no access,” said Wilson. “Sixty-six children die each day before age 1. Forty-seven fewer children would die each day if our health care system was similar to some other developed countries that use a system similar to the VA. The VA model saves lives and improves the quality of life for veterans.”

tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com

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