MOUNTAIN HOME, TN (WJHL)- There are now more than 600 veterans waiting for care in the Mountain Home VA system.
After an investigation revealed a national VA wait list scandal in May of last year, our local VA brought its wait list down from 1,200 veterans, according to Mountain Home VA Associate Director Dan Snyder.
In November 2014, we reported Mountain Home VA Medical Center hired more than 150 new employees, extended clinic hours, and sent veterans to private doctors so they didn’t have to wait.
In January 2015, VA leaders said zero veterans were waiting for care.
But once again veterans are waiting.
“We’re waiting, and we’re waiting, and we’re trying to be patient,” veteran Barrett Payne said.
Payne spent nearly two decades in the Army and said he started using the VA in 2006.
“You expect to get taken care of,” Payne said.
But he said since his primary care doctor quit, “I’ve been waiting two years just to get assigned another doctor.”
Payne said if the VA’s wait list showed zero veterans in January, he fell through the cracks.
“The system is overwhelmed and the federal government cannot handle it,” Payne said. “It’s not that the care with the VA is substandard it’s just it’s hard to get.’
Payne said he now has an appointment in October for primary care, but he said something needs to change.
“The biggest thing is just to allow them (the doctors) just to say ‘hey let me refer you to my partner Jim who’s over here in the private sector,’” Payne said.
Utilizing outside doctors is how the Mountain Home VA leaders said they plan to eliminate the wait list.
According to Snyder, right now there are 659 veterans waiting on care in the entire Mountain Home VA system in Northeast Tennessee.
Of those, 427 veterans are waiting for care here in Johnson City.
Snyder said no one on this list is waiting for primary care.
So why is anyone waiting?
Snyder said last August congress passed the Veteran’s Choice Act, which he said has been a challenge to implement.
“The Veteran’s Choice Act works through two national contractors to provide care in the community. So rather than us contracting directly with a community provider…we now do it through this third party administrator,” Snyder said.
Snyder said at the start, that third party, Tri-West Healthcare Alliance, had no network of providers here.
“So that has added to our wait times because they haven’t had the service available to us,” Snyder said.
He said that network has grown over the last year, and the VA will now be able to refer more veterans to outside care, which Snyder said will help eliminate wait times.
He also told us the VA can now book outside care appointments for veterans, which he said will make it easier for veterans to choose outside care.
Snyder said he hopes to get the wait list eliminated once again by this January.
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