You’ll remember that three months ago I put up a report called How are Veterans Treated in Montana?
It talked about how many veterans are in Montana (99,646) and how long the wait times are at certain VA clinics.
For instance, Kalispell wait times for specialty care were 40 days back then.
That’s what the report Senator Jon Tester had put together told us.
I was interested if veterans are doing any better in Kaslipell. Mainly, has that wait time gone down?
I was thinking about this primarily because of the terrible incident we had in that city last month when a veteran with PTSD was shot by police on his own doorstep.
How do we prevent that from happening again?
And really, are Montana veterans getting the healthcare they need…and fast enough?
That’s why I called up the VA in Kalispell. I was told to call the public outreach person in Helena, so did so.
I did so at lunch so got the machine.
I hoped I’d get a call back.
Mainly, I want people to know about this issue, this terrible inability of government to do the job it assigns to itself.
Most Americans don’t know that the VA can’t do its job, and most probably wouldn’t care if they did know.
- They’re busy.
- Things are hard.
- There’s enough to worry about in their own lives.
Well, my life ain’t that rosy but I’m talking about this issue.
Mainly, I want you to get mad. I want you to get mad at the VA.
I want you to ask them why, and perhaps that might look like this:
- Why are we having 40-day wait times? Because we don’t have enough staff.
- Why don’t you have enough staff? Because we don’t pay them enough to stay on.
- Why aren’t you paying enough? Because Congress doesn’t set the pay high enough.
- Why isn’t Congress setting the pay high enough?
That’s about as far as you’ll get talking with someone at the VA.
To get more answers, you have to go to those people in Congress and ask them.
So I called up Senator Tester.
I actually just called the phone number that Google gave me, which is to 208 N. Montana Avenue in Helena.
I got Senator Tester’s Native American laison, and she said I needed to call the media person, who is Les Broswell.
I asked why I had to call him, but was pretty much told that any questions that anyone has have to go to another office.
I kept asking and she hung up on me.
I thought it might have been my phone cutting out, but nope – I still had $1 on it.
So I called up Les Broswell.
He’s in the Bozeman office…I guess.
I got that number and then the choice of two answering machines. I chose neither and the phone started ringing again.
A woman picked up, I asked for Les, and was transferred after a minute.
I told him my questions and he said he’d get back to me in email.
After that I decided to call up Senator Daines.
I again went with the phone number that Google gave me, and this time it was in Washington.
This time I got an intern and I know that because she said "I'm just an intern" at one point.
She told me that the office was really busy today.
I asked if she’d like me to put that on my website and at that point I was told to wait to see if she could find someone to talk to me.
I wanted to give her my phone number so I didn’t have to sit there on hold, but she said no, she’d find someone.
A couple minutes later she came back and told me to email the press secretary, who was in a meeting.
So I did, again asking about those 40-day wait times.
Let me just say – there was a lot less jumping through hoops on the Daines phone call.
Would it pay off?
At this point I decided to just sit back and let the return phone calls and emails roll in.
Why Are VA Wait Times So Long?
I decided to dig into this and found some interesting stuff.
For instance, on the same day Tester released his report – November 11, 2015 – US News & World Report had a story.
It told us what steps the VA had taken to reduce wait times since the scandals in August 2014 where 40 veterans died while waiting for care.
A total of 27 people lost their jobs over those deaths.
Those steps to reduce VA wait times were:
- Increased Staff and Facility Space;
- Efforts to Identify and Reduce Inefficiencies in the System;
- A Program to Help Veterans Seek Care Outside the System.
Unfortunately, wait times were still high. This despite the new VA Secretary and a $16 billion infusion from Congress, which “were seen as victories by both the president and both parties.”
John McCain blamed the bureaucracy for the problems. He advocated the Choice Card so veterans could seek care.
Alas, the VA gutted the program by shifting $3.3 billion “to cover other budget shortfalls.”
Hillary Clinton called that kind of privatization of the VA “betrayal, plain and simple,” and vowed she wouldn’t let it happen.
Meanwhile, three months later, those wait times remain long and no one is talking about it.
Healthline told us on November 25 that cases “in which appointments took 30 or more days to happen” have gone up by 67% from November 2014.
That’s a jump from 300,000 cases not completed in a month to 500,000 cases not completed in a month.
One way the VA began combating this huge problem was to authorize “900,000 additional patients to see outside physicians.”
That makes sense, considering that the VA had “2.7 million more appointments than in any previous year” in 2014, according to the Washington Times.
As we saw, however, Hillary Clinton opposes private care for veterans…even if it means they don’t have to wait a month.
I personally have to wonder if the campaign donations that she gets from the healthcare industry have something to do with that.
The VA still deserves much of the blame, and in January the stories came out about sexual violations of a patient by a VA worker.
That VA worker was still being paid after getting charged.
It was revealed that the VA had had “10,000 privacy violations since 2011,” according to Observer.
Also in January, the VA “declined to prosecute two VA officials who defrauded the Department out of $400,000.”
The Observer piece is a good barometer of where the candidates stand on the VA issue:
- Trump: Calls the VA “probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States” and he’d “fire everybody.”
- Rubio: Introduced legislation to let the VA secretary “fire poor-performing executives.”
- Jeb Bush: Has some kind of plan that mainly revolves around the Choice Card idea and further privatization.
- Fiorina: She says the VA is “a stain on our nation’s honor.”
- Hillary: She “doesn’t appear to believe there’s much of a scandal.”
- O’Malley: Before he dropped out he wanted to end veterans unemployment by 2020, overhaul “health care offerings,” and end the wrongful military discharges related to PTSD.
I’m not sure where the other candidates stand on the issue.
I was not at all surprised.
- First, I’d called that day so you can expect that people don’t know how to act quickly (it is government, after all);
- Next, it’s pretty clear that the VA doesn’t have any answers as they had none in November and they were still having problems last month;
- Then, Congress isn’t going to want to draw any attention to their glaring inability to do anything on this issue;
- Finally, Montana’s elected officials have decided that it’s in their best interest to ignore me, hoping I go away, hoping people don’t read what I write.
So that’s why I went ahead and just put this story up on the same day I started it.
Even if someone from the VA or Tester or Daines gets back to me tomorrow or the next day, what will they say?
Wait times have dropped from 40 days for specialty care in Kalispell to…what, 20 days?
The bottom line is that no matter how much money you throw at it, or who you put in charge of it, that problem will still remain:
The VA can’t do its job.
Considering that Congress can’t do its job, why should this be surprising?
I think Donald Trump is right – fire everyone, at all levels of government, and just start over.
It couldn’t possibly be worse than what we have now.
But worse is exactly how those currently in charge want you to think it’ll be.
That’s the same argument people in Flint would have been given about their water – if we do anything, the problem will just get worse.
That’s defeatist thinking.
This is a defeatist country.
Why work when you can get a few crumbs from the table, just enough to tide you over and get you by?
We won’t call it slavery, just dependence, handouts even, or possibly just support.
Either way, you can’t live without it.
These veterans can’t live without the care they need…though in many cases that care is recommended by doctors that are often clueless themselves.
For instance, I saw one veteran that was going to get a device surgically implanted into his back to relieve chronic pain.
That’s an option, one that’ll probably cost $100,000 or more.
Another option is diet and exercise and therapy and perhaps some pain medications. Medical marijuana would be a good, all-natural choice.
But things like that wouldn’t profit the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry so they’re not even put on the table for discussion.
That’s America today, just the way those in charge want it.
Many are eagerly awaiting the results in New Hampshire, the primary being tonight.
I feel our veterans will be eagerly awaiting their care no matter which of those clowns ‘wins.’
I did and found a PDF that was pretty much a 27-page spreadsheet.
Searching for Kalispell I was able to put together this chart of Kalispell wait times:
So it looks like 76% of Kalispell VA patients are seeing a doctor within 2 weeks. About 24% have to wait more than 2 weeks.
8 poor individuals have to wait 3 months to 6 months.
So that's where the VA in Montana stands.