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Tom’s Opinion: Veterans Administration Healthcare In Montana

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 15: U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel are sworn in before testifying to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee about wait times veterans face to get medical care May 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. The American Legion called Monday for the resignation of Shinseki amid reports by former and current VA employees that up to 40 patients may have died because of delayed treatment at an agency hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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No medical facility can perform to everyone’s satisfaction all the time. I’ve been pretty lucky in my life to have very minimal hospital visits. Like you, I’ve heard the recent stories in the news about the VA in Arizona and other places. Having visited VA facilities twice this month I thought I would comment on the recent news events and my experiences.

The Alleged VA Scandal

When a veteran makes an appointment with a VA hospital or local clinic the VA requires that veteran to be seen within a 14-30 day window. The current investigation was triggered by alleged “secret waiting lists” that were kept off the VA computer system resulting in deaths of up to 40 veterans who were not seen within the required time frame.

The most recent problems have surfaced at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida. Auditors discovered a paper list of veterans needing follow-up appointments that were not entered into the VA computer system. The VA’s Office of Inspector General has put three staff members on paid leave pending the final results of the ongoing audit.

Other VA hospitals across the country are scheduled for further audits and it’s not known at this writing whether Montana will be on that list for any audits or investigations.

My VA Experience

I have had the opportunity to visit both the VA Hospital at Fort Harrison in Helena and the VA facility in Billings as well as our local VA clinic here in Bozeman. Thankfully I have not had any serious medical issues but I have had some things come up that needed more than local attention.

My experiences at all the VA facilities I’ve visited have been very positive. I’m not aware of any extended wait times but again none of my medical conditions required immediate attention. The one thing I did notice in all my visits was terminology. I never heard the word “Patient.” Everyone was a “Veteran.” And almost everyone I came in contact with for any length of time thanked me for my service.

I can honestly say that I’ve spent more time waiting in a non-VA doctor’s waiting room than I have in a VA hospital. If I have an 11 AM appointment I’d better be on time because they will be calling my name. The waiting time in the examination room has been shorter compared to my non-VA experiences.

Some Final Thoughts

If you’ve had a bad experience at any medical facility no amount of positive evaluations are going to make things right. Doctor’s and nurses are human and make mistakes just like the rest of us.

However, when people’s lives are at stake and rules are bent or broken that must be brought to the forefront and corrected. I’ve never felt that my military service has justified any spot at the head of the line for me. But I do feel that just because the VA is a government entity supported by tax dollars it is not any less deserving than any other healthcare to delivering the best available care.

Speaking from my own personal experiences I can honestly say that I am quite comfortable putting my life in the hands of our local VA professionals.

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