Veterans complain of cumbersome VA system

Published: Aug. 19, 2014 at 9:29 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 19, 2014 at 9:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono let a panel of Hawaii military veterans vent their frustration over accessing health care and navigating what some of them called a cumbersome Veterans Affairs system.

"To the veteran, the system has become the enemy. It has worked against them, not for them," veteran Victor Craft testified.

The three-hour meeting at the Oahu Veterans Center in Salt Lake was an in-the-field hearing of the Senate's Veterans' Affairs committee.

"Eighteen months after deployment I received a letter stating I was accepted into the VA system, finally, and that I had only a couple months left for these particular services. I was so disgruntled and so upset that I tore up the letter and threw it away," Hawaii Army National Guard Capt. Elisa Smithers said.

Some vets grumbled about a high turnover rate of VA doctors and being shuttled from physician to physician.

"Most veterans, they build up a relationship with the doctor. And then, boom! The next time they come in there's a new doctor there," said Fred Ruge of the Maui Veterans Council.

The hearing also hilighted improvements in the time Hawaii veterans wait before getting their first doctor's appointment. It was 145 days in May. That's down to fewer than 60 days.

"The goal is to have everybody get their initial appointment within 30 days. We've been very successful in established patients, and we just need to keep up the capacity to do that," said Wayne Pfeffer, director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System.

"The idea is that we want veterans who are first enrolling to get their appointments as soon as possible," Hirono said.

Veterans also testified that Hawaii needs a hospital for veterans instead of Tripler.

"At the least the senator knows our concerns, where she can bring that back up to Washington," veteran Stanley Fernandez said.

Hirono told a gathering of about 100 veterans and VA providers a new federal law will pump $5 billion into the VA system to hire more doctors.

"It is clear that no veteran should have to wait for benefits that they've earned by serving their country," said James Tuchschmidt, VA Interim Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Health.

There are more than 100,000 military veterans in Hawaii.

"There's help there. My encouragement is for all veterans to register with the VA," Vietnam vet Randall Mau said.

Hirono will take what was said in the hearing back to Capitol Hill.

Pfeffer said veterans on Oahu will get another chance to air their concerns and suggestions at a townhall meeting on September 26 at the Oahu Veterans Center.

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