Congressman Brad Sherman

Representing the 30th District of CALIFORNIA

Improving Veteran Healthcare

  

Oct 24, 2014
Opinion-Editorial

Improving Veteran Healthcare
By Congressman Brad Sherman

Veterans and their families make many sacrifices for our country, and they deserve nothing less than the very best healthcare available. Yet across the country veterans continue to encounter excessive wait times and inadequate treatment. In April of this year it was reported that the Veterans Administration had manipulated and falsified official records in Arizona and elsewhere to give the appearance of shorter wait times for veterans seeking treatment. Tragically at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at Veterans Health Administration facilities in Phoenix, Arizona. 

The VA initially reported average wait times of new patients to be around 24 days, but a review by the Inspector General found those numbers to be far worse. 

An audit of the VA released earlier this year found that veterans who are new patients experienced an average wait time of 42 days to see a primary care doctor. Veterans who are already in the system waited an average of 5.7 days to see a doctor. However reports across the country show that thousands of veterans who are not yet in the VA system are experiencing wait times of over 90 days.

Over the last four months my office conducted a survey of veterans in the San Fernando Valley to determine their level of satisfaction with healthcare and benefits when seeking care at local VA facilities. The survey, which included nearly 150 local Valley veterans, found that 71% of respondents reported receiving timely and adequate healthcare. Regarding benefits other than healthcare such as disability benefits, vocational rehabilitation, education or job training, 64% of respondents reported being satisfied with the time it took to receive treatment and the quality of service. 

Nearly all of the respondents to my survey sought treatment at either the Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center in North Hills or the VA West Los Angeles Health Care Center. These facilities fared equally well, each reporting about a 70% rate of satisfaction with regard to timely and adequate care. Regarding benefits other than healthcare, both facilities reported about a 62% rate of satisfaction regarding the time it took to receive treatment and quality of service.

Those veterans who reported dissatisfaction with care were referred to my constituent services staff who are now working to help resolve their healthcare and benefits issues.

A majority of the respondents to our survey were veterans who were already in the VA system, and therefore typically experienced shorter wait times. However, the VA audit found that in the LA area, veterans who hadn't used the VA in more than two years had to wait an average of 56 days for a primary care appointment and 55 days for specialty care. Patients who were already in the VA system in LA waited an average of four days to see a primary care doctor, six days for a specialist and two days for a mental health appointment. It took an average of 39 days for new patients in the LA system to see a mental health specialist. That was typical of facilities nationwide, where the waits for mental healthcare for new patients ranged.

While our area fares better than the national average, there is still much work to be done. I am working to ensure that facilities in the LA area are suitable to fit the needs of veterans in our area, including helping allocate funds to the Sepulveda Ambulatory Health Care Center, and the West LA Health Care Center. In order to correct these alarming trends in long wait times and backlogs at VA facilities, I am working to help pass reforms that ensure greater transparency and better management of the VA. In fact, this year I worked to help pass H.R. 3230, the Veterans’ Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which authorizes the VA to lease more facilities, hire additional staff, and allows veterans who have waited longer than established goal wait times to visit non-VA facilities for care. 

My staff regularly assists veterans who need help with VA benefits, helping to ensure that medical needs are provided in a timely manner. We also focus on helping veterans obtain disability benefits, veterans’ and survivors’ pensions, burial benefits, educational benefits, obtaining and correcting military records, and awarding overdue or lost military service medals. I encourage all Valley veterans and residents to contact my office if they are experiencing difficulty with a federal agency by visiting my website at www.BradSherman.house.gov, calling my San Fernando Valley office at (818) 501-9200 or emailing me at Brad.Sherman@mail.house.gov

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