Months-long delays for doctors’ appointments at the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center and paperwork snarling veterans’ use of VA “choice cards” to see private physicians were among the complaints House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller heard Wednesday.
Miller, R-Fla., who was returning to the East Coast from California, stopped in Las Vegas for a meeting of 40 veterans on advisory panels for Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. Heck hosts nonpublic sessions quarterly for veterans and local national security observers to speak candidly about their concerns.
“What do I got to do to see a doctor?” asked an Army veteran who suffers from traumatic brain injuries.
He said it took him five months to see a neurologist through the choice program. The program, enacted in 2014, allows veterans who live more than 40 miles from VA facilities or who must wait more than 30 days for a VA appointment the opportunity to seek health care from private-sector physicians who, in turn, will be reimbursed by the VA.
“When I did see the neurologist, it took me longer to fill the paperwork out in his office than it did to treat me,” the veteran said. “He looked at me. He didn’t have correct equipment and needed me to come back to the VA another consult for a different neurologist. Then I would continue to wait for another four months.”
After the meeting, Miller said the complaints he heard were typical of what he hears from across the United States with VA health care and benefits issues.
While some of the VA systems “are working well,” Miller said, “The choice program had a very bumpy rollout. And we are still seeing problems that should not exist today. They should have been ironed out.”
Heck said he, too, hears complaints about the choice program.
“It is taking just as long, if not longer to get an appointment in the civilian system,” Heck said, adding that Nevada lacks adequate numbers of doctors, particularly in specialty fields.
“The infrastructure was not put in place to assist the veteran in getting that appointment in the community through the VA system,” he said.
Local VA officials at the meeting said the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System provides care to 58,000 veterans. It has more than 200 staff physicians, of which about 50 are primary care doctors.
Miller said there’s an “apparent lack of accountability” among VA managers. “It’s unfortunate that we have to keep raising the issue. And we raise the issue in Congress because the public brings it to us.”