To solve vet centers problems, hire more doctors

Dear Sgt Shaft,

I just finished reading your article for the new vet center in NY state. This is all well and good, but the real reason vets are waiting so long for an appointment, or to be seen once they have an appointment is lack of doctors. Period.

I had an appointment for an eye exam for 1:00, didn't get to see the doctor till 6:17, and there were 7 people waiting after me. When I asked why the wait, I was told there was only one doctor to handle patients from three clinics plus the main center. This was back in 2010, and the wait time has improved only a little.

If they, the powers that be, want to solve many of the problems at the vet centers, hire more doctors. Just because the military has a TOE to go by, doesn't mean the VA should have one. The amount of doctors hired by any VA med center should be based on the amount of veterans seen, have appointments, and applicants for a given size area. This is to include the area covered by the outlying clinic, and the people they see each day. A two, maybe four month study counting these people, plus a growth study of the area would best determine the amount of doctors necessary to make sure all veterans in that area will be seen in a timely manner. Think about it.

Lee V
Via the internet

Dear Lee,

As long as the antiquated Civil Service Commission (Office of Personnel management) caves to the union and is unable to fire useless employees and makes it difficult to hire doctor, nurses, and other qualified health professionals; health service to our veterans will be less than adequate.

Shaft Notes

• The Sarge wishes Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson well on his recently announced  plans for immediate actions to address the recommendations outlined in the recent interim Office of Inspector General report. He made the following statement in Phoenix, Ariz.:

“No Veteran should ever have to wait to receive the care they have earned through their service and sacrifice. As the President said last week, we must work together to fix the unacceptable, systemic problems in accessing VA healthcare. I believe that trust is the foundation for everything we do — VA must be an organization built on transparency and accountability.

“That’s why we will release results from our nationwide audit, along with patient access data, for all medical centers next Monday. The data will demonstrate the extent of the systemic problems we have discovered.

“The Inspector General confirmed we have serious issues when it comes to patient scheduling and access, and we have moved immediately to address those issues in Phoenix. VA has reached out to all Veterans identified in the Office of Inspector General’s interim report to discuss individual medical needs and immediately begin scheduling appointments. Getting this right is our top priority, and taking care of the Veterans here in Phoenix is a good place to start.

“We are using our current authority to immediately provide care in the community, to include primary care. In Phoenix, VA is working to award a contract which will extend the ability to use non-VA providers in the community for primary care.

“We’ve deployed a dedicated human resources team to support the hiring of additional staff. We are using temporary staffing measures, along with clinical and administrative support, to ensure these Veterans receive the care they have earned through their service. That includes three of our mobile medical units to take care of patient’s right here. That’s our first priority — to get all Veterans off waiting lists and into clinics. But more work remains.

“We now know there is a leadership and integrity problem among some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities, which can and must be fixed. That breach of integrity is indefensible. In Phoenix, we initiated the process to remove senior leaders. Across the country, VA has suspended all VHA senior executive performance awards for FY 2014. We will use all authority at our disposal to enforce accountability among senior leaders.

“Additionally, we will remove the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance contracts to eliminate any incentives to engage in inappropriate behavior. We will revise, enhance, and deploy scheduling training, and we will continue medical center audits and site inspections.

“Veterans must feel safe walking into our VA facilities — they deserve to have full faith in their VA. I will not hold back from asking for help from other agencies, from community partners, from Congress — both sides of the aisle — or from the Veterans Service Organizations, who have been serving Veterans for decades. They are all our valuable partners.

“We will need the support of all our stakeholders to continue to improve the department. I look forward to working with them all to better serve our Veterans.”

• The Sarge is looking forward to attending this years annual (29th) Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF) Congressional Awards Reception to be held at 11:30 a.m. on June 12 in 340 Cannon House Office Building. The recipients of this years awards are: BAVF's George "Buck" Gillispie Congressional Awards to Representatives Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii and J. Randy Forbes, Virginia. The Carlton Sherwood Media Awards will be presented to Lindsey Boerma, CBS News.com and Donna Leinwand Leger, USA Today. The George Alexander Memorial Volunteer Awards will be presented to Bruce Davis, Department of Veterans Affairs and Shane Ostrom, Military Officers Association of America. The Corporate Volunteer Award will be presented to Ben's Chili Bowl.

• In addition, the Sarge will be attending this year's BAVF 29th annual Flag Day Picnic in Silver Spring, Maryland honoring Tony Morella, Professor Emeritus American University, Washington College of Law. Lakis will be on hand as usual cooking his famous New York hot dogs served Washington style for this event. Children will enjoy swimming, and guests will be entertained by the Hula Monsters performing oldies but goodies and Hawaiian melodies.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.