Veterans concerned over medical care
By BY ERIN ELIZABETH PRADIA - EPRADIA@VICAD.COM
July 22, 2011 at 2:22 a.m.
Veterans are concerned about the level and quality of care they receive through the Veterans Affairs system.
Almost 50 veterans attended a forum Friday to voice their concerns. The forum was set to discuss the relocation of the VA Outpatient Clinic in Victoria, but that appeared to be the least urgent concern for the veterans.
At the opening of the meeting, Veterans Clinic Network Director Lawrence Biro, made three promises toward pursuit of the Veterans Clinic's mission of providing medical and social services to veterans.
"I promise that your service will be second to none; I promise to maintain and expand services; and I promise you will be individually satisfied," Biro said.
While the VA clinic is working to get more doctors, Veterans Affairs representatives said there will be no out patient pharmacy or radiology clinic. While lab samples will be taken in Victoria, the samples will be shipped to an out-of-town lab for processing.
When the floor was opened to questions, 48 veterans who gathered at the American Legion Hall on East Santa Rosa Street expressed concerns about the quality of care they receive through the Veterans Clinic.
"They are excellent administrators, but they haven't taken the time to become the veteran at the other end," said veteran Arturo Mendoza. "It is nice to say you worked somewhere for 15 years, but that doesn't make a difference when it comes to actually providing the services."
Veterans said they pay out of pocket for services not offered through the VA hospital because local private practice clinics no longer take reimbursements from the VA hospital.
Several veterans said they have not been reimbursed for emergency medical services they had to pay for up front more than a year ago.
Veterans asked why they could not go to local doctors and have the VA reimburse them, rather than having to drive to San Antonio and wait in line for care they often never receive.
The representatives said that under the current laws, that is how they must handle services not offered through the VA hospital.
Veteran Richard O'Neal said once they are able to see a doctor at the local clinic, the care they receive is good, but there is only one full-time doctor in primary care and two contract doctors who come in as needed.
By a show of hands, only four of the veterans who had requested a routine primary care appointment were seen within 30 days of calling for an appointment.
"The doctors are working their butts off," O'Neal said. "It seems we need to expand the clinic. We're just don't have access to proper care."
Dr. Vicki Hannigan, who works at the Victoria outpatient clinic, admitted that the staffing situation is not optimal. She said the primary care hospital is working to get four doctors, but she did not give a time frame for those changes.
Veterans also expressed difficulty in receiving all varieties medicine.
The representatives from the Veterans Affairs gave out their business cards for veterans to contact them directly when they have issues with the system.
As the meeting progressed, representatives left their seats on the stage to have individual talks with smaller groups of the veterans.
Meanwhile, serious medical issues go un-addressed, the veterans said.
Two of the veterans present had suffered heart attacks and one had a stroke because they were not able to get through the system in an expedient fashion.
A fourth veteran said he requested an appointment and by the time he was seen, three months later, cancer spread from the initial area of concern to three other areas of his body.
"These issues are systemic, they aren't just individual concerns," said Tony Debona, a veteran of Victoria.
Veterans' Advocate William McLemore, of Victoria, advised veterans to file complaints or appeals if they were not satisfied with their care.
"I'm not saying you should have to do this, I am being pragmatic with you," McLemore said. "Until we get better training, the best that I can tell you is that you have to right to appeal."