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The two sides to VA

The two sides to VA
Rick Proctor speaks during a town hall meeting at American Legion Post 31 in Shinnston, W.Va. (Photo by Steph Chambers)

Rick Proctor spent 10 years working in human resources at the Louis A. Johnson Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Clarksburg, W.Va., before taking a disability retirement earlier this year. In that time, he saw two sides to VA: a health-care side that provides "world-class" care and an administrative side that he says is far from world-class.

Proctor, a U.S. Army and West Virginia National Guard veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, shared his personal view of the Clarksburg VAMC during Monday’s American Legion town hall meeting at Post 31 in Shinnston, W.Va.

“I don’t think the issue lies with patient care,” Proctor said. “VA patient care is about the best you can get in the whole world. It’s the administrative side of the house that’s pretty shady. (Clarksburg) had the second-longest wait time for mental health patients. There’s no excuse for that.

“If we come to find out somebody manipulated data or falsified government documents to boost their bonuses, then that person should be prosecuted.”

Proctor said while working at Clarksburg, he was asked to change numbers relating to the number of days an applicant spent in the hiring process. “There were specific performance measures needed to be met there,” he said. “Anyone in HR up there will tell you they’ve been, at one time, asked to fudge a number. I’ve seen it happen. It happens because it all comes down to money: bonuses, salary, whatever the case may be.

“That doesn’t apply to everybody. (Chief of Staff Glenn Snider) – best there is. (Associate Director for Patient Care Services Denise Boehm) – best I’ve ever met. But the administrative side, they’re pushing paper. That’s about all they do."

Proctor’s statements continued a common theme heard at the Legion’s various town hall meetings this summer: VA health care is good, but access sometimes is lacking. Approximately 30 people attended the meeting, including area veterans, and local VA health-care and benefits staff.

One veteran said many of the veterans he knows get their care at the Clarksburg VAMC and have no issues with their care. Another said his only issue has been that he once waited an hour in the emergency room before receiving treatment. Otherwise, “I have no complaints about the care or the doctors there.”

The quality of care is good, one veteran said, but there isn’t enough of it because of a shortage of doctors. Another veteran said that VA health care saved his life. Having spent 17 months in a military hospital, the same veteran said that the Clarksburg VAMC is "like the Waldorf Astoria” compared to the military hospital.

One veteran disagreed about the quality of care. Donald Friend of nearby Hepzibah, W.Va., said he has been trying to get new glasses at Clarksburg since 2012. He has had two eye exams; each one resulted in a faulty prescription for one of his eyes.

“They say, ‘You’ve got to wait six months before you come back for another examination,’” Friend said. “I’m still waiting. They said November of this year is when I get to come back. If you can’t even get a pair of glasses after the second try … they’re incompetent. This is the most incompetent group of people I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Friend also said that when he tries to contact the Patient Advocate Office at the Clarksburg VAMC, his calls are never returned. “A month will go by, six weeks, eight weeks, she never calls back,” he said. “When I ask her about it, she says, ‘I’ve been real busy.’ If she’s so busy, the least she can do is either call you or send you a letter saying, ‘Hey, I’m working on your situation.’”

Another person who spoke at the town hall meeting said he is a former employee at Clarksburg who now volunteers at the facility. He said that sometimes at the facility, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing – and sometimes seems as though it doesn’t want to know.

“There are very good employees there,” he said. “I do believe there are every professional people at Louis A. Johnson facility. Being said, that doesn’t mean there’s not work to be done. Sometimes (things) get pushed under the rug. “

The Legion will open up a Veterans Crisis Command Center at Post 31 at noon today. The center will be open until 8 p.m. and again from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday. Verna Jones, the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation director, urged all those in attendance facing problems with benefits or health-care appointment scheduling to come to the center.

“Take the opportunity while we are here,” Jones said. “We’re going to have VA personnel right here. You can sit in front of an American Legion service officer. They’ll look over some stuff for you and then sit you right in front of a VA employee who can help you with your claims.”

Jones said the town halls the Legion has conducted are critical to informing Congress about the fixes that should be implemented within VA. “We can advocate for you in front of Congress … as we have for years,” she said. “If we’re not advocating for the right thing, it’s all for naught. We want to understand what you want us to take in front of Congress. We want to know what you want us to take in front of VA leadership.”

More in Veterans Health Center

 

Alan Lubke

August 9, 2014 - 4:43pm

The Patient Advocate at the VA Medical Center San Francisco once was as bad, if not worse than, the Patient Advocate Office at Clarksburg as described by Donald Friend at the American Legion Town Hall meeting. The office at SFVAMC has improved. The unit is now manned by two persons instead of one. The door seems to be always open. The first of two partitioned desks is clear of any clutter and is manned by a person who listens to your complaint and refers the matter to her contact in the medical center unit who can solve the problem. You could be shortly dispatched to the problem solver or later receive a call at home from the problem solving person. I assume the second desk besides also “quickly- solving”, problems, deals with issues more sensitive than those which are handled by the first desk.

Mike Relsad

August 8, 2014 - 2:41pm

Please tell me, when did the VA become National Health Care for veterans and move away from treating only service connected medical conditions? Poor health habits, drinking, smoking, using drugs,over eating and lack of exercise that result in health care issues are not service related. How do you connect a by-pass or CPAP with service connected? The problem with the VA is that it has attempted to be nation health care to veterans without the budget or staff to support that volume of care. If the VA enforced it's mission most of you would not be recieving care at the VA. So instead of slapping the hand that is trying to help you give the VA the support to get the funding and staffing to do national health care for all veterans.

Mike Tierney

August 9, 2014 - 1:11am

You are absolutely correct. Thanks.

tom Lincks

August 8, 2014 - 10:58am

My primary concern with the VA i financial. I was operated on in the Indpls. hosp. for heart bypass. I was told that no veteran was ever charged more than $1200 for a hosp. stay. I was charged almost twice that & when I challenged that, the VA ordered the US Treasury Dept. to deduct the money from my soc. sec. checks [without notifying me in advance] and I had no recourse. My privatee Ins. Co. sent the VA a check for $1000 to cover part of the expenses but for some unknown reason the VA sent the check back to the Ins. Co. w/out notifying me. I finally tried using the VA [worthless] advocate system but they refused to get involved. As with a prev. writer, the advocate promised to contact me w/in a week. After a month and no ret. call I went to the hosp. & located the advocate in the hosp. cafeteria & asked about the status of my case. I was told that "Atlanta wouldn't allow the case to be discussed". In order to protect my soc.sec. I paid the Govt. demand and have been using private Dr. It's cheaper in the long run. Korean War Vet.

Bill Farris

August 8, 2014 - 3:47am

I think if you live 45 miles from army hospital you should be able to see doctor on outside, lot of times you are just to sick to drive are catch a ride that for ,is that asking to much for what we have done for or country I don't think so,where i live you have to go 20 miles to clinic to get a Doctors permission to go to hospital to see whats wrong with you.THEY DO NOT DO ANY THING THERE BUT TAKE BLOOD TEST

Jersey Jeanne Goldy-Sanitate

August 7, 2014 - 5:27pm

Mr Proctor is correct. I too have worked at several VAMC's and have been a patient there as well since being medically retired in 1984 due to SC disabilities. The main problem is the VISN system which was createdin the late 1990's. It looked good from the begining but has proven to be a huge money drain from dirct patient care, hiring of patient care professionals and the rehab monies needed to inporve the aging VAMC facilities. We saw how effective this system to oversee the oeverseerers in the VACO has been.ie..Phoenix VAMC debacle and others. It was designed to be capped @ 66 personnell ($$6 figure salaries) per 23 VISN's andhas grown to 200 + per VISN currently. Sect Shinsecki was working and I must say successfully at getting the personnell cap back to 66 when he was removed from his position. Let's do a bit of math and I will say these are extremely conservative numbers..23 VISN's X 66 personnell X $200,000 (average saly/yr) = $303,600,000, this does not include travel pay, per diem and the other add on these overseerers get when they walk around a VAMC for a few hours taking notes (..hey what about talking to a few veterans about the care). This money could be used for facility rehab, hiring medical practioners to cut the backlog and actually treat veterans instead of looking at what they think needs to be done to improve care..I'd say that is quite a major chunk of change that could be going where it should, Ya think?? A doctor at the Wilmington VAMC testified in front of the Senate a few years back showing this and what did our Senate do..they hired 23 more $$6 figure VISN people to evalute the accusitions.. Time to quit looking and evaluating things at the VA and to start treating our injured and ill veterans.. Jersey Jeanne, USAF (medically) ret. MS-OD

Brian Clark

August 7, 2014 - 3:10pm

Almost everything the government tries to run they fail at. Why can't we veterans go to regular doctors like everybody else. I have had my share of problems and successes at the VA in Columbia mo. But there are so many rules and such I do not believe the healt5h care will ever be as good as in the private sector. The right hand never knows what the left hand is doing. Once during surgery they had to go next door and borrow what they needed from Columbia Hospital to get the job done and by then there was some damage so I had to under go surgery a second time and have a tube hanging out of my back for a couple of weeks so I could heal up to get operated on again. I think like our government the whole system is broken.

Lee Mack12

August 7, 2014 - 3:46pm

Brian: I hope your health gets back to A1..I'm also a Veteran. I served in Germany long ago. When I got out I was never told we needed to sign up for benefits. When I did hear about it the VA said it was to late for me to get benefits. I needed to sign up before 2003. There claim is I make to much money. If you can belive that...Yet, our Gov't gives money to other nations; the VA gives benefits to many who never even served in the Military while snubbing their own veterans and denying them benefits. I find it unimaginable that the US Gov't doesn't take care of all it's Veterans who serve to keep our Freedom here at home. Many like myself are given half a peace sign. My best to you, take care.

Art Garrett

August 7, 2014 - 2:38pm

Marion il is close to if not the worse place for cre. 2007, I was having a problem with circulation in my right leg and foot. The care giver in EVansville in ruffed me to Marion for test and treatment. The doctor at Marion said he did not have to do tests as he kne what was wrong. After 5 weeks of going back and forth (apps 250 mile I was getting worse. The nurse with me pushed me into the Er after a few minutes a Dr cme in and asked if I was having heart problems I said no he and his nurse left and left me and MFJ wife in a near dark room alone . I passed out my wife had to walk around in the hall to find a dr. When she came back it was about two hours later,I was out. When I came to I was in a ward . I did not se a nurse until late that evening. I was released the next morning and went to a Dr in home toen and found out I had a serious proble M that I am still fighting . Also, my trave pay for each trip was $13.00 and should have been $60.00. It appears the man writin the pay was shorting travel. He was removed soon time later. As best that I can figure I was shorted nearly $1500. Dollars. I would rather not go back there. 250 miles is to far to go for no treatment. More has happened but I do not feel like telling it now.

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