This morning in Seminole, recently elected GOP Congressman David Jolly said his most immediate concern is what's happening at the nearby C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center at Bay Pines. He said he has officially inquired as to whether such a "secret list" exists at Bay Pines, and wants to know what procedures are in place. Although he says that he's been informally told that there are no such wait times, he wants to learn first hand from local veterans who have had problems at Bay Pines. He has invited them to come to his Seminole District Office on June 17 between 9 am and 1 p.m. to meet with his staff and discuss their experiences.
Although he insisted at the beginning of his press conference that the issue shouldn't be used as a political football, Jolly has been unstinting in criticizing President Obama for his failure to act quicker to address the growing crisis. Today he added that "frankly we've seen very little from this president" on an issue that Jolly is emphasizing — that concrete plans be formed to allow vets with the most immediate problems to go outside of the VA system and into the private health care system.
"The President and the Secretary (of the VA Eric Shinseki) need to clear the waiting list right now," Jolly declared.
"I think it's a travesty," added Dave Miller about the growing national scandal. However, Miller — a former combat Vietnam vet and a patient advocate for the American Legion — praised the treatment that he's received as a patient at Bay Pines, and said the only problem of which he has concrete knowledge is that there are waits up to a couple of months for vets to get a consulting visit from a medical specialist after being initially diagnosed by a primary care doctor. But Miller said local vets should not be deterred by the negative media coverage from getting the care they need at Bay Pines.
(Jason Dangel, public affairs officer for Bay Pines, told CL it was difficult to directly address Miller's complaint, but added that when a speciality consult is moved forward, primary care providers are going to give first priority to cases that need to be addressed immediately. He added that Bay Pines works often with its sister VA facility — the James A. Haley Center in Tampa — to make sure such patients' care is addressed in a timely manner.)
Miller praised Jolly for inviting vets to tell his office (and the local media) about their issues with the VA. One Seminole veteran who has had a horrific situation at Bay Pines — retired Coast Guard veteran John Robertas,
57 — described his troubles to reporters, specifically a five-week delay between the time he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and his first chemotherapy session.
In February Senate Republicans blocked a vote on a bill sponsored by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders that would have bolstered health and dental care, authorized 27 new clinics and medical facilities, added to veterans' education programs, and dealt with veterans who suffered sexual trauma while in the military. The New York Times
reports that the GOP blocked the bill because they were not allowed to add amendments to it, and that the VA is plagued by inefficiency and poor management, not insufficient funds.
Jolly himself attested to that on Tuesday, saying resources were not the problem. But a little later he said he would support an emergency appropriation to fund a plan to transition some vets out of the VA system and into private health care. "We should allow immediately veterans who are on the waiting list, for 30 days, 60 days, whatever that time is, to immediately go outside in the private sector, and if it requires emergency appropriations for three months or six months to clear the backlog, let's do it."
Jolly says it could take a year to two years to fully clean up what's wrong with the VA and says that needs to happen, but more importantly, he says, is to address veterans' medical needs now.
Although Congress is (once again) on a break, the delay in handling claims and treating patients at VA hospitals remains a dominant issue across the country. Records of wait times were allegedly falsified at the Phoenix VA, and the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs is investigating whether long wait times contributed to the deaths of 40 veterans at that facility.