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Veterans ask Tester to "work on crazy for us" with the VA

Steve Corey/Flickr

You could say service is a tradition in Madeline Steeley’s family. She served in the US Air Force.

“Both of my daughters went into the Marine Corps, one just came out after 13 years, the other, after five. Both, heavily disabled. I have a son-in-law that came out of the Marine Corps, another son-in-law that came out of the Navy. My daughters’ father retired after 20 years Air Force. So, I have quite a bit of experience with the military,” Steeley said.

She came to Senator Jon Tester’s third stop on a statewide Veterans Listening Tour to share some of her, and her families’ frustrations with the Veterans Administration.

“I myself have experienced excessive wait times to get in for medical care. Actually had the patient rep here in Montana look at me and say, ‘this is at best rural medicine.’ No veteran deserves what would be classified as rural medicine. It’s that simple,” Steeley said.

Another veteran summed up the feelings of many by saying most of what he suffered from these days, was waiting. Lost claims, paperwork, delays in receiving medicine, as well as prescriptions being too freely doled out and leading to addiction are other issues brought up by veterans.

Those who came ranged from pre-Vietnam, through to recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator Tester gave a synopsis of what was happening in Washington D.C to address the problem. He spoke of the Inspector General’s recent report showing most veterans like the care they received from the VA- once they actually got seen.

Tester said the recently passed Senate Bill adds more doctors, nurses, and telemedicine; grants vouchers for those who live far from a VA hospital or clinic to go to a local provider, and gives the VA Secretary the ability to fire hospital administrators for incompetence. Tester said a committee is meeting this week to work on the House and Senate Bills addressing problems with the VA. The committee will take both pieces of legislation, negotiate, and try to come up with a final draft that will go to the president for either a signature or a veto.

“I think the first thing we have to do is pass that bill that’s in conference committee this week, we’ve got to get it out of conference in good shape, and then we’ve got to hold the bureaucracy accountable for the job they do in implementing that bill. And then we’ve got to put more transparency on the VA. I think transparency’s good in all forms of government, I think it’s obviously needed in the VA system,” Tester said.

Rene Gardner served in the Navy on aircraft carriers between 1975 and 1980. He said he’s been getting treatment through the Kalispell VA clinic for almost 30 years.

“What’s wrong is there’s not enough staff. These people here work hard and very diligently, and they care about the veterans; they take the cut in pay, they take the cut in benefits from the outside world to help us. But they can only do so much, with so many people that are pouring into the offices; from the old timers coming in in wheelchairs, to the new kids coming back from the sandbox,” Gardner said.

During the listening session Gardner brought up an issue many others spoke of- lost paperwork. He said the law states if the VA can’t find your record, you weren’t sick. Tester called that crazy, and Gardner asked him to “work on crazy for us.”

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