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Veterans Affairs Panelists Meet with Area Veterans, Take Questions, Concerns

After news about long wait times broke last year and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned, many were left with questions about veterans health care.

Representatives from the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System attempted to answer some of those on Wednesday through a town hall meeting at the United Veterans Club.

More than 10 panelists were present, including Eileen Kingston, acting director for the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System; Jenny Rosenbalm, chief of the business office; Loren Miller, director of the VA Regional Office in Lincoln; Jeremy McIntyre, pharmacy manager at the Grand Island VA, and others.

The meeting was rescheduled after one in December was postponed due to weather, but Kingston said similar events take place quarterly at rotating sites.

The goal, she said, is to keep the lines of communication open with veterans and to gain feedback to improve their care.

That is something were all dedicated to, she said, providing the best experience that we can so that, when you do come to a VA hospital or clinic, that we are providing you with services that you need and that you earned.

During the meeting, panelists answered questions submitted by attendees before taking general questions. Some in the audience expressed concerns about long wait times for appointments and how crowded services are in places such as Omaha.

Kingston said that, while data show that 95 percent of patients are able to be seen within 30 days, thats sometimes a problem. Physician shortages, especially in speciality areas such as orthopedics, neurology and ophthalmology, sometimes occur. Even so, they have worked to develop other options, such as telehealth for those in rural areas, extended hours at some facilities and the ability to be seen by nursing managers for some conditions.

Still, Kingston said, that feedback is important.

Rosenbalm also shared more information about the Choice Program, which might help with some concerns.

It is meant to be a three-year program to help with wait times, she said, and is funded by $10 billion. Veterans who signed up and who live more than 40 miles from any VA care facility or who are unable to be seen within 30 days qualify, and they should be able to see a physician in their area, she said.

So far, however, she said most veterans are sticking with their VA providers.

Others at the meeting voiced their concerns about claims being accepted and shared their own stories.

Jerry Schenck, a Vietnam veteran, was one of those people. He said he had a stroke and received emergency services at the hospital but has since had trouble getting his claim with the VA approved.

The communication is so poor with the way they communicate with you when youre trying to get the bills paid for, he said. And I want everyone to get paid what theyre due, and yet I keep getting put off with the VA.

Though Rosenbalm told Schenck she would look into his case further after the meeting, he said he had been to a town hall before and wasnt sure it would fully resolve his questions.

I have a feeling that Im going to get the old song and dance, he said. I dont think it will accomplish much, but I wanted to voice my opinion and let them know whats going on.

Schenck said forums such as Wednesdays are important to veterans for just that reason, even if he couldnt get his questions answered.

Carl Lewis, a Korean War veteran from Riverdale, agreed.

He, too, voiced concerns about having claims rejected.

Miller told him he would personally look into Lewis case and assured him that everyone in his office is highly trained and works hard to do everything they can within the law.

I can tell you that Nebraska veterans are very well served by our office, Miller said.

While he said he is not sure the town hall will solve his questions, Lewis said it is important for him and others to share their stories.

This is the only place we can find out the latest thing thats going on with the veterans, if there are any updates with policy, care, treatments and so forth, and so we can get our questions answered, he said.

Kingston said thats why she finds the town hall meetings so valuable. She said they have had good participation and have heard good comments about staff and quality of care despite administrative questions.

They strive to give veterans individualized answers to their questions, and through feedback, she said, they are able to bring about change.

I think its a huge part of our mission that we take care of our veterans. Thats what were here for, she said. So to hear the experiences theyre having, its going to allow us to meet their needs better and fulfill the mission were here for.




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