CLAYPOOL — About 20 military veterans sat on a circle of chairs in a barn Tuesday afternoon with U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski.
They shared stories of their frustrations with trying to access health care services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Walorksi, R-2nd, is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Late in the session, the host of the gathering said members of the crowd had to admit that they have had good VA experiences, too.
“I’ve got an excellent doctor right now,” one man replied, “but I can never get in to see him.”
Walorski talked about visiting the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, where she spoke with every patient in the waiting room.
“By and large, what most of these guys and women said was, ‘I like the VA system when I get into it, but trying to get into it was a bear,’ ” Walorski said.
Tuesday’s bull session in southern Kosciusko County was Walorski’s last event in two days of meetings with veterans and tours of VA facilities in her district. Last week, she and others in Congress joined President Barack Obama as he signed into law a bill aimed at improving the delivery of VA health and education benefits.
Among other things, the VA legislation will allow veterans to seek non-VA medical treatment if they must wait more than 30 days for VA care or drive farther than 40 miles to a VA clinic. The law is a response to reports of preventable patient deaths, medical treatment delays, fraudulent recordkeeping and backlogs of benefits claims at VA facilities around the nation.
Brad Spratt, 49, of Silver Lake told The Journal Gazette he spent 22 years in the Army and National Guard and did three combat tours of Iraq. He said VA denied his 2009 medical claims for sleep apnea and tinnitus, so he promptly filed an appeal. He learned in May, five years after his appeal, that one of the two claims had been approved.
“Overall, I’m very satisfied with the VA,” Spratt said. “I just don’t understand the timeline.”
VA benefits are “no different than a pension,” he said. “The government said, ‘Hey, if you join the service and defend your country, … we’re going to do this for you.’ They need to live up to that, because people are counting on that.”
Earlier, Walorski, who is opposed in the Nov. 4 election by Democrat Joe Bock and Libertarian Jeff Petermann, told the gathering that she and her staff tend to veterans issues in her district “like a fly on honey.”
“But it shouldn’t have to be that way,” she said. “I can’t call, you know, 54,000 cases myself. So (VA leaders) have to come up with a standard that is workable. … They have to come up with a standard of excellence.”
She said VA improvements will happen because of the public outcry for them.
“The only reason we’re sitting here today, in this barn, is because the American people rose up to the president, to the secretary of the VA and to the Congress and said, ‘Enough is enough, hell no, stop this.’ That’s what changed this issue.”