WaKEENEY — Just up the road from the Kansas Veterans Cemetery and with several veterans in the audience, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., on Wednesday criticized the agency tasked with overseeing veterans’ health care.
Approximately 20 people gathered to hear and question Moran at the Western Electric Cooperative community room at the Trego County stop of his listening tour while Congress is on break.
Two years after a scandal showing negligence within the Veterans Administration, Moran said the department still is mismanaged.
“I believe the VA is allowing too many veterans to slip between the cracks,” he said.
“If you need proof that big government doesn’t work well, the VA is a pretty good example,” he said.
Veterans’ health care is the No. 1 complaint his office receives now, he said.
Moran said Congress is focused on implementing the Veterans Choice Act, a law passed in 2014 in response to the discovery the VA was lying about wait times for veterans to see doctors.
Internal investigations that year showed at least 35 veterans had died while waiting for care in the Phoenix Veterans Health Administration, and nationwide, thousands of veterans waited 90 days or more to see a doctor, if they saw one at all.
The Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 provides veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA health facility or who have to wait more than 30 days for treatment from a VA facility can seek care at a non-VA facility, such as their own doctor or local hospital.
“That, in my view, is a really, really good thing for veterans,” Moran said. “It is also a good thing for our health care delivery system in our home towns. Just like our schools need every student, our hospitals need every patient.”
But, he said, the VA is fighting the law.
“The VA doesn’t like this at all,” he said. “They’re making it difficult for veterans to qualify. They’re slow in paying the bills.
“The VA has testified that veterans don’t want this law,” Moran said. “That can’t be true. If they don’t like it, it’s because of the experiences they’ve had in trying to get in it and getting the services they need.”
The senator told the audience his office had been contacted by a veteran from Moran’s hometown of Plainville who needed a colonoscopy. The veteran wanted it done at the hospital there, but the VA told him he could not because there is a clinic less than 40 miles away in Hays. However, colonoscopies are not among the services in the Hays outpatient clinic, so the VA told the veteran he had to go to its hospital in Wichita.
A veteran in the audience suggested the VA hospital system be done away with and veterans be allowed to choose their medical providers.
“If we can prove this works, that’s the direction I think that this can go,” Moran said.
“There may be specialized services that only the VA can provide,” such as mental health care for veterans suffering from PTSD, he said. “But there is a lot of opportunity for us to downsize the big volume of VA and put people at home.”
He urged those in attendance to help make sure veterans are using the Choice Act, even if that person is ready to give up on it. He said veterans facing difficulty with getting care at home should contact his office or officials with the VFW or American Legion for help.
“Make sure someone connects with this veteran so that if they’re willing, we force the VA to do what they’re supposed to do and care for these people,” he said.