BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU — Veterans seeking care at the VA Medical Center here in Hawaii wait an average of 145 days.
Maybe more striking, some 64,000 veterans enrolled in the system for at least 10 years have yet to see a doctor, says a Department of Veterans Affairs audit released Monday
Even before the audit, said Willes Lee, a West Point graduate, the problems for veterans in getting medical care were obvious.
“We didn’t need an audit to tell veterans and their families that they are being abused, abandoned and discarded. … Hawaii liberals in Congress and the state Capitol have failed us. They didn’t know? C’mon. This is disgusting,” Lee said.
Tito Montes, a former Naval officer who leads the Hawaii Republican Assembly political group, called the treatment of veterans “abominable.” He agreed with others that it’s time for privatization of the system. He also noted the VA’s failed delivery of health care to veterans doesn’t bode well for Obamacare.
“Aside from the human tragedy, these terrible outcomes serve as a large wake-up call and accurate forecast of what is to come with Obamacare. If bureaucracy cannot take care of our veteran population, how can the government do it for the whole country?”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a military veteran who served two tours in the Middle East, called the treatment of veterans in Honolulu “infuriating and deeply disappointing.”
Gabbard spent last week on a “Veterans Listening Tour.”
“Some came with tears streaming down their face, as they begged for someone to please help them. It makes me sick knowing that our returned warriors are subject to begging for care when they come home,” Gabbard said.
Nationally, nearly 64,000 new veterans have asked for appointments at 1,700 hospitals and clinics, though no appointments were scheduled.
Gabbard last week wrote President Obama, asking him to use his executive authority to immediately allow veterans to access private health care.
“Our veterans should not have to wait another day to get the care they have earned and deserve. They must not be told to wait for the VA to be fixed,” Gabbard said.
Gabbard, who is drafting legislation to give veterans the right to obtain private medical care as a temporary solution, has launched a campaign to get local veterans to fill out an online form or call — 808-541-1986 — if they have been treated unfairly.
Former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, a Hawaii Republican and Afghan war veteran who served on the House Armed Services Committee, said he, too, has waited for VA services.
“Long term, we should allow all vets the option to access private health care facilities using the veterans benefits they earned, instead of forcing vets to use government-mandated VA institutions,” Djou said.
The House passed the Access to Care Act of 2014, which would allow any enrolled veteran to receive care at non-VA facilities if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility and a medical appointment is not available within the wait-time goals, according to U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii.
The VA, meanwhile, said the agency will discard its goal to schedule appointments within two weeks because it’s “not attainable,” but it will implement an emergency plan to get medical care to veterans by hiring temporary staff, extending clinic hours, referring patients to private care, and restoring its mobile medical units in some critical areas.
The controversial bonus system that set off a firestorm across the country will be suspended, as will hiring more bureaucrats at its headquarters.
- U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said he is supporting the bipartisan legislation that makes the VA more accountable and improves access for veterans by allowing the VA to redistribute $500 million in unspent money for new doctors and nurses and widen the health-care provider network to reduce wait times for veterans.
Specifically for Hawaii, Schatz said the bill also authorizes a $15.88 million lease for the Advance Leeward Outpatient Healthcare Access Center on Oahu’s Ewa Plain, doubling the VA’s existing clinical capacity on Oahu.