NM Vets Battle For Healthcare Off The Field

Jun 13, 2013

Credit DVIDSHUB via Flickr

Veterans with combat disorders joined their families this week to express their frustration at how long it takes to get veterans services. Congressional representatives Steve Pearce and Michelle Lujan Grisham hosted the public forum in Albuquerque Monday.  

Fans ran at high speed in the American Legion Post 13 auditorium as outside temperatures inched up to 100 degrees.  Tensions were also heated among the families of veterans who've had trouble receiving healthcare services once they're off the battle field.  

Gloria Reed's son was recently turned away while on leave in Albuquerque.

"When my son came to visit me from another state, when he first came home I saw a situation where I thought that he needed help and I sent him to the VA Hospital," Reed said.  "They told him that he had to return to his base in El Paso to be treated because that's where he was stationed; and what if a crisis had taken place here?"

First District Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, pointed out that military healthcare is supposed to be seamless.

"You know in private insurance, if you're in another city and you have an issue, they have to cover you," Lujan Grisham said.  "The same rules apply to Tri-Care, active military and to veterans.  They have to  provide continuity of care; that's clearly not going on here, so that's something we're gonna get addressed."

Representative Pearce responded that his staff is following up with constituents to resolve their issues.

"But we also have these meetings to where our administrators  are in front of the people; too often they are not here.  We as elected officials hear these every day.  When they hear them they go back with a renewed passion to make things better." 

The Department of Veterans Affairs is tackling a backlog of more than 600-thousand applications for healthcare coverage nationally.  Here in New Mexico, advocates say vets are waiting an average of three to six months to see a doctor... and some end up using emergency rooms for primary care. Critics also point to a lack of communication among federal agencies like the Veterans Affairs Department and the Department of Defense which handles active duty military personnel.  

Many issues veterans brought up at Monday's forum centered around treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries. And there are other kinds of trauma troops experience. Diane Castillo coordinates the Women's Trauma Clinic in Albuquerque through the Federal VA department. She says she's seeing cases of sexual trauma daily.

"What I typically see in these women is that there's a high rate of military sexual trauma - MST, so we're seeing a growing rate of combat trauma among our female veterans now, the younger ones."

Castillo says even though the Albuquerque site is the only clinic covering New Mexico and southern Colorado, patients who can't make the drive get their treatment through a tele-health system of video visits. 

Both Representatives Lujan Grisham and Pearce pledged to follow-up on citizen complaints and said they were committed to reducing the backlog of cases.