Vets could see doctors in private sector under new proposal

ST. LOUIS - On this start of the Memorial Day weekend, veterans are learning for the first time they could be allowed to see doctors in the private sector, if the VA can't schedule them within 30 days.

The legislation will be introduced by rep. Jeff, Miller (R-Fla.) who said, "While President Obama and Secretary Shinseki engage in an endless discussion regarding allegations, investigations and unreliable internal VA reviews, they are overlooking VA's very real, very deadly and very well-documented delays in care problem. By the department's own count, the deaths of at least 23 veterans are linked to recent delays in VA care. This is proof that the department's system for ensuring veterans receive timely appointments is in dire need of an overhaul. Now is the time for immediate action."

Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner not only supports the legislation, she believes it could receive bi-partisan support.

"I'm tired of studies and excuses. It's time we solve this problem. It's unconscionable, we deserve answers but most of all we deserve for this to get better," said Wagner.

The St. Louis VA, like others around the country, has a backlog of patients waiting to see doctors and mental health professionals.

Wagner believes its high time veterans receive access to any doctor if the VA is too overwhelmed.

"If they have to wait for a certain period of time before they can get services, they should have a card, a pass, some type of that allows them to go to the private sector," she said.

Whistle blower Earline Johnson couldn't agree more. Four years ago she blew the lid off the sterilization problems inside the VA's dental clinic. She also thinks president Obama needs to take a different approach to solving all the problems at the VA.

"He should be talking to us whistleblowers, we are the ones who can tell him what he needs to do. What is happening and this is how we can resolve the problem where our veterans would not be at risk. I am at the point now where I feel as if the veterans should have a card where they should be allowed to go anywhere to any hospital," said Johnson.

Since coming forward four years ago, Johnson says she's lost her home, her car, but not her resolve.

"They have taken everything away from me Leisa, and guess what? I'm still fighting. I'm fighting for the truth. I just want the president to know that it's unfair for whistleblowers to be targeted or people who speak the truth to be targeted to be fired and then you come up with these lies and have other people corroborating these lies," she said.

This week the former chief of psychiatry at the St. Louis VA came forward to report an artificial backlog regarding veterans with mental health issues. Dr. Jose Mathews, said staff in the clinic are only seeing patients about four hours a day and when he asked them to schedule more patients, he claims there was a mutiny and VA officials demoted him.

The VA issued a statement to KSDK denying all of Dr. Mathews claims.

Rep. Wagner joined Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in demanding an investigation.

On Tuesday, VA officials sent a statement saying full time psychiatrists see on average 14 patients in an eight hour day. Dr. Mathews had said it was more like six patients.

On Wednesday, the VA amended that statement to read, "Fiscal Year 2014 (year-to-date) the number of patients seen per psychiatrist per day ranged from 5 to 14."

The spokesperson explained those with just five patients likely had other duties like research or in-patient care.

On Friday, VA officials were dealing with water problems on the sixth floor. A sprinkler broke forcing nine patients to reschedule colonoscopies and other GI procedures.


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