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VA Health Care Delivery

   STATEMENT OF 

JASON SMITH 
STATE OF FLORIDA SERVICE OFFICER 
VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES   

BEFORE THE

FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION   

WITH RESPECT TO

VA Health Care Delivery   

WASHINGTON, DC                                                                                                 June 12, 2014

Representatives Buchanan and Hastings, and Members of the Delegation, on behalf of the men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) , I would like to thank you for inviting me to speak today on the state of VA health care in Florida.  The VFW considers the recent findings by the Inspector General and internal VA audits of systemic appointment wait time data manipulation leading to the denial of care for veterans to be a national crisis, and we appreciate your interest in holding this meeting.

The VFW believes that secret appointment wait lists not only indicate poor management, but the larger issue of access.  If VA truly had the capacity to meet the demand for care, there would be no cause to hide long wait times in the first place. 

Last month, the VFW launched our national help line and began holding town hall meetings to assist our members and hear their experiences with VA health care.  The recurring story that we hear is that VA care is good, if you can get it.  Due to lack of capacity and available doctors, many veterans are waiting far too long for the care they need and deserve.  Through our help line, one Florida veteran who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer told us that he had to wait five months to see his primary care doctor.  

The VFW believes that the long term solution to solving the VA capacity issue is clear.  VA must expand its facilities and hire a sufficient number of physicians to meet the demand for care.  We realize, however, that this will not happen overnight.   In the short term, VA must use all available tools to get veterans the care they need, to include contracting with community providers when necessary.

My views regarding the state of VA health care in Florida are based on speaking daily with veterans. It usually begins as a discussion about the status of a disability claim or the process in getting a disability service connected, but then transitions into their experiences with VA health care.

Florida veterans, like veterans across the nation, are satisfied with the health care they receive from VA. Yes, there are problem areas that need to be addressed and improved upon; there is no denying that fact.

The more I speak to veterans the more I understand how important the doctor-patient interaction is in determining whether their VA experience is positive or negative. If the doctor listens to the veteran and is truly concerned about the veteran’s health the veteran feels, he is getting the best treatment available.

On the other hand, the reasons I hear for dissatisfaction with VA care is almost always about the doctor. How the doctor was rushed, did not listen, and seemed disinterested.  It is reasonable to believe that this is happening because doctors are rushing through their appointments in an attempt to compensate for the lack of capacity at their facilities.  One important measure of quality of care is patient satisfaction, and a doctor who is too rushed or overworked to spend time understanding his patient’s needs cannot possibly provide the highest quality care.

As VA hires more doctors to address its lack of capacity, it is important that they maintain the highest standards of qualifications for employment.  VA must not compromise quality in an attempt to appear fully staffed.  VA must provide the highest quality care in addressing access issues.  The veterans of this nation deserve no less.

This concludes my statement.  I thank the delegation for allowing me to speak today, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

 

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