Moran, Jenkins Address Concerns At Topeka's VA Medical Center

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TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- Amid the growing crisis within VA facilities across the country, Kansas lawmakers paid a visit to patients are Topeka's VA medical facility, in an effort to address under-staffing issues and ensure Kansas veterans are receiving timely care.

"Thanks for your service to our country," said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)

He and Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) shook hands with and listened to personal testimony from veterans Friday morning at Topeka's Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center. The visit comes after a scathing veterans affairs audit revealed 57,000 veterans nationwide had been on secret waiting lists, waiting at least 3 months for a first appointment.

While officials at Colmery-O'Neil said there is no wait list at the facility they know of; some Kansas veterans have told Moran and Jenkins they have not received timely care.

Moran said people have told him when they call the VA, they are told to call back in 6 months and they'll schedule an appointment then.

"That suggests to me that's a different way of trying to avoid evidence of a long list, or a waiting time," said Moran.

Jenkins said she and Moran have heard complaints like those about a dozen times over the past 6 months.

"They will be told to call back and set an appointment. Then they'll be called that day and told their appointment has been cancelled and to call back again, so it's as if they keep kicking the appointment down the road," Jenkins said. "That is right here in the local facility."

Under-staffing at Colmery-O'Neil has been a continuing issue over the past year. Its emergency room was subsequently shut down in January due to lack of staff.

Public Affairs Officer for Colmery-O'Neil Jim Gleisberg said its staffing is adequate for that day.

"If you have a shortage, only accept 'X' amount of patients that day. Then we fee base them out to somewhere else. The veterans always get their health care, but they may not get it here based on a staffing level," explained Gleisberg.

Patients Moran and Jenkins spoke to Friday said they've had no issues at Topeka's facility.

Christine Allen has been using the VA health care services since the 1980s. She served in the Army as a truck driver from '81-'84. She said she's had to wait a few days at the most to be seen.

"Since I've been up here, no problems getting in, getting seen, anything really," Allen said.

In response to the nationwide issue of VA healthcare problems:

"Any hospital is going to have its problems, VA or civilian, staffing or whatever. There's never a fail-safe place to go. To hear that there's problems somewhere along the line, it's not surprising but I haven't run into that myself."

Bob Brown is an 87-year-old World War II veteran who has been at Colmery-O'Neil for two weeks after an infection got into his bloodstream. He said he hasn't had any problems either.

"This is a wonderful facility. The VA is doing a hell of a good job. From this hospital here, it's run well."

Colmery-O'Neil's staffing is up to required levels and is awaiting approval from the VA in Washington, D.C. to reopen its ER.

Moran said he doesn't want the bureaucracy of Republican and Democrat viewpoints to continue to get in the way of providing health care for veterans.

He said Senate passed legislation that would allow veterans who have been waiting for an appointment for more than 14 days to go a different private facility. Also, veterans who live 40 miles away from the nearest VA would be provided care at a facility closer to home. Moran said the Senate and House need to resolve some differences before they send the bill to President Obama for a signature.

Gleisberg said they have recently began implementing a new policy in which they call patients whose appointments are 90 days out and asking them if they would like to be pushed. That policy was started in late May by former Secretary Erik Shinseki in an effort to get the process of seeing veterans moving quicker.