Wednesday’s town hall was heated, as veterans gathered in Albuquerque to raise concerns about VA health care with the state’s administration.
Hands in the audience were still raised as the two-hour meeting drew to a close. Scores of veterans who got a chance to speak complained of extremely long wait times, rushed care and bad communication with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
They told stories of incompetence in New Mexico, their frustrations mounting over years with poor access to health care and little recourse, echoing national sentiment as the VA’s inspector unearths lies and false data at health centers around the country.
Veteran Mike Perea addressed state Director Jaime Robbins directly. “I’ve been down there several times, and you’re always too busy, you don’t have time to see the veterans,” Perea said. “At your office, they told me to go ahead and write a letter. I’m a patient man. But you know what I’m going to be 77-years-old pretty soon. I’ll probably die before you answer my letter.”
Many specific issues were raised, including:
• High turnover of medical staff
• Rude and dismissive treatment by VA staff
• Staff members who are certified but not qualified
• Off-brand medications being prescribed in situations where brand-name medications would yield better results
• Medical records getting lost in the shuffle or going unread
• Long waits for hearing aides after they’ve been prescribed
• Long waits for results after seeing specialists
• Long waits for return phone calls when veterans call with health issues
• Long waits to see the patient advocate, whose office is unfriendly and closet-like
• Bad communication about procedures and timing, especially for folks traveling to Albuquerque from around the state for care
• No understanding of where complaints go once they’ve been filed
• Poor adherence to the VA’s own policies
• Lack of veterans on the board or employed in the health care system
• The VA’s failure to work with the private sector, which would allow local care instead of requiring travel when patients need operations
Robbins, director for New Mexico’s VA health care system, tried to address each concern as it was presented, promising reform and better communication. He said the local VA has taken several measures in recent months. “We have added some more clinic hours. We’ve recruited some primary care staff,” Robbins said. “We’ve given a try on Saturday clinics, which was successful. We’ve been calling folks on waiting lists.”
VA staffers recorded information from audience members who made complaints, and Robbins also promised more town halls.