- Tester’s Big Chance to Help Veterans (Dec 2014)
- How are Veterans Treated in Montana? (Nov 2015)
- Montana Democrats Continue to Fail Democrats (April 2016)
- Tracking Jon’s Lies to Veterans (May 2016)
- Highways, Vietnam and Veterans (June 2016)
I was reminded of this issue today because of Kathleen Williams.
You see, this morning she was speaking on the conservative Missoula radio station, KGVO.
For the whole second hour, the only people calling in were veterans complaining about how bad the care is at Montana’s VA system, particularly Helena’s Fort Harrison.
I’m not surprised.
Like I said, we’ve been tracking veterans’ issues for years, and most of the news is bad.
It made we want to dig back into this story, and I’ll tell you right now, the results are disappointing…but, in some cases at least, better than they were 4 years ago.
Let’s dive in.
The first thing I did was go to a site that allows me to look up VA wait times based on zip code.
I started with Helena and found out that wait times at Fort Harrison are currently 17 days.
That’s 4 days longer than it was four years ago, when it took 12 days to get mental health care there.
Here are some other wait times around the state:
- Cut Bank VA: 4 days
- Billings VA: 8 days
- Bozeman VA: 9 days
- Great Falls VA: 10 days
- Anaconda VA: 10 days
- Kalispell VA: 11 days
- Libby VA: 12 days
- Miles City VA: 18 days
- Lewistown VA: 22 days
- Glendive VA: 22 days
- Havre VA: 23 days
- Missoula VA: 30 days
- Hamilton VA: 107 days
These wait times were an issue today.
One caller to the radio show this morning said he’d been trying for 3 weeks now to get ahold of someone at the VA.
- He gets in on the phone, but the first time a prerecorded message told him that he had 15 people waiting ahead of him…just to talk to someone on the phone.
- The second time he called, he had 20 people ahead of him.
- On the third time, he had 30 people ahead of him.
Kathleen Williams said this was incredibly helpful feedback, and she plans on going to Fort Harrison to look into these things.
Good luck, Kathleen.
Like I said, I’ve been reporting on this for years and nothing ever seems to get better…and that’s when we have our state’s main senator ‘working’ on it!
Still, things aren’t as bad as they once were.
Let’s take Kalispell.
Back in 2015, wait times were 40 days.
3 months later we learned that it was 14 days for 76% of the patients there, and over 14 days for 24% of the patients.
Today we see that most people in Kalispell are waiting 11 days.
If we go to another VA wait time site, we’re given even more detailed information.
For instance, we can see that for May 2018, the Montana VA has a total of:
- 36,485 scheduled appointments
- 31,047 appointments happening within 14 days (85%)
- 2,135 appointments happening between 15 and 30 days (6%)
- 1,843 appointments happening between 31 and 60 days (5%)
- 677 appointments happening between 61 and 90 days (2%)
- 301 appointments happening between 91 and 120 days (1%)
- 482 appointments happening after 120 days (1%)
So 9% of all Montana VA patients have to wait over 30 days to see a doctor, and 4% of those have to wait more than 60 days.
Over 1,400 Montana veterans have been waiting at least two months to see a doctor…something our government promised them after they returned from war or service.
This is despicable, but not surprising.
So what’s the problem? Wait times are still long…why is that?
Ten days ago, Healthcare Analytics News came out with a report called GAO Report on VA Choice Program: Long Wait Times, Bad Data.
We’re told that the 2014 Choice Act – something meant to address the incredibly long wait times that veterans face – in fact had such a “flawed implementation” that it actually “led to substantial wait times – and might have once again resulted in US Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) staffers falsifying dates to minimize the problem.”
I encourage you to read the article to learn about how dates are falsified.
The whole idea behind the Choice Program was that, if a veteran had to wait for 30 days at a VA facility, they could instead go to a private facility and have the VA pay for it.
For some reason, though, this didn’t work. Instead of 30 days, wait times turned into 70 days in some cases.
- “In one case,” the report tells us, “it took VA staff nearly 3 weeks to prepare a Choice Program referral for a veteran requiring an MRI, which was followed by a 2-month wait for the veteran to undergo the scan.”
- Several more weeks went by before a doctor talked about the scan with the patient, and overall, the process took that veteran 6 months.
- Another example has a veteran realizing they’re pregnant, but the VA wasn’t able to schedule a prenatal appointment for 18 weeks after that - over 4 months!
This news saddens me.
It saddens me that Senator Tester has been working on this issue for years, but little has improved.
Wait times are still long, and many veterans have excruciatingly long wait times.
The cynical part of me thinks this is how it was planned.
If the powers that be can only make wait times longer, confidence in the VA will fail and there’ll be a clearer road for privatization.
That way all the VA money can go to private corporations, and the CEOs of those corporations can make millions of dollars more a year in salary and bonuses, plus they’ll get a larger golden parachute.
Nothing in privatization will help veterans, but little in the public system is helping them either.
You’d think, if we were truly the greatest and most powerful country in the world, that we could take care of the people that take care of us.
But that’s just not the case.
For years now, America has failed its veterans.
Nothing indicates that this will change.