Veterans in Kansas and elsewhere say they have called the VA for medical appointments and been told to call back in six months, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said Friday.
“That suggests to me that that’s a different way of trying to avoid evidence of a long list or a waiting time for veterans to access care. That’s a harder one to prove. There’s no evidence, there’s no list that demonstrates that. But we’ll be pursuing that with the veterans who shared that with us,” said Moran, who serves on the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Moran said he could not say where that was happening in Kansas.
A VA spokesman said this was the first time he had heard about that.
“We’ll have to look into it. If we’ve got a staff member who’s doing that, we’ll take appropriate action. It ain’t what’s supposed to be done,” said Jim Gleisberg, public affairs officer for the VA facilities in Topeka and Leavenworth.
Moran and U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins visited the Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka on Friday, following weeks of scrutiny for the Veterans Administration over failures to ensure timely medical treatment for veterans. They toured the facility and met with patients before a closed-door meeting with administrators.
Jenkins said she had also heard from constituents who have had appointments delayed or canceled.
“It’s a pattern. You hear it once, you’re concerned. You hear it twice, you grow more concerned. But we’ve heard it so many times,” Jenkins said.
In Wichita, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, met with officials at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center to discuss an audit that showed the facility had kept veterans on unauthorized waiting lists. Pompeo also toured the facility and met with patients.
“This situation needs to be resolved and quickly,” he said in a statement.
An audit of VA facilities released earlier this week showed that 110 Kansas veterans had been on a waiting list for treatment for 90 days or more as of May 15.
Gleisberg said the VA was working to cut down wait times, but that limitations of staff and resources sometimes lead to delays. “Here’s what everybody doesn’t understand. … If I was briefing somebody and I said to you as an organization, 98 percent of X is doing fine, you’d go, ‘98 percent, that’s cool.’ If you have six million veterans, 2 percent is over 120,000.”
“I’m not trying to defend. I’m just trying to put things in perspective,” he said.
The patients Moran and Jenkins met with Friday said they were satisfied with the treatment they had received.
Christine Allen, who served in the Army from 1981 through 1984 and lives in Topeka, said she has been able to get into the VA when she’s needed treatment. “There’s been no problem. There’s been no wait list for me,” she told the lawmakers after being admitted the previous night for vomiting blood.
Bob Brown, 87, flew missions over Europe during World War II as part of the Army Air Corps. The Perry resident has been hospitalized for two weeks because of an infection. Moran invited him to see the WWII Memorial in Washington after he recuperates.
“This is a wonderful facility, I’m telling you guys,” Brown said to a room crowded with reporters. “The VA’s doing a hell of a good job.”
There was no secret waiting list at the Topeka facility, according to its staff. There was in Wichita, where 385 veterans were found to be on a secret waiting list for appointments.
Moran expressed his disappointment and surprise to hear that this had taken place at a facility in Kansas.
“My first reaction was what’s happening surely is not happening in Kansas. We’re different. We care strongly. We have integrity,” Moran said. “So there’s something in the VA system that overcomes all those attributes that Kansans say.”
The senator said he wants President Obama to look outside the agency to find a new secretary now that Eric Shinseki has resigned.
“The VA has always had challenges, but what seems different to me than several years ago is, at least at the national level, there’s just kind of been in my view a shrug of the shoulders, no real effort to solve the problems,” Moran said.
But he said that it should not become a partisan issue, and he cautioned Republican colleagues about using the scandal as opportunity to attack Obama.
Democrats and Republicans need to work together for a solution, he said. Moran pointed to a bill that passed the Senate 93-3 on Wednesday, which will enable veterans to seek care outside the VA if they live more than 40 miles from a facility or experience a wait of more than 30 days.
Moran noted that the bill was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., one of the most liberal members of the Senate, but had received strong Republican support.