Sen. Moran: Some Kansas veterans denied VA health appointments

06/13/2014 8:01 PM

06/13/2014 8:01 PM

TOPEKA Some Kansas veterans can’t get medical appointments at U.S. Veterans Affairs facilities and are having scheduled checkups canceled as the dates approach, two members of the state’s congressional delegation said Friday after touring the VA medical center in Topeka.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said his office has received about a dozen complaints over the past six months from veterans who’ve said they called for appointments for VA medical services and have been told to call back again after six months. A spokesman for the VA health care system in eastern Kansas said he’s not heard of such problems.

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins said veterans have complained to her office that within a few days of a scheduled appointment for a routine visit, a VA employee has called them and said the appointment needs to be rescheduled weeks later. An aide said the congresswoman has received about 10 such complaints in the past month.

Their visit to the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center came only days after a VA audit showed that more than 57,000 veterans nationwide had to wait at least three months for initial appointments, including six in the VA’s eastern Kansas system. The VA also disclosed that some Midwestern hospitals had unauthorized patient waiting lists, including one with 385 names at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita.

“I think these issues are systemic,” Jenkins told reporters after the tour in Topeka.

Moran and Jenkins toured the Topeka VA medical center for 30 minutes and visited a few patients in their rooms before meeting with Rudy Klopfer, director of the VA’s eastern Kansas system. Moran is a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Jenkins represents the 2nd Congressional District of eastern Kansas, which includes Topeka and Leavenworth, home of the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center.

Moran said he’s troubled by reports that veterans who call for appointments are being told to call back again in six months because they then don’t appear on any lists, authorized or otherwise.

“I raised it because I don’t think it’s received any attention,” Moran said after the tour. “There’s just no evidence, no list someplace that you can find. There’s no smoking gun.”

Jim Gleisberg, spokesman for the VA’s eastern Kansas health system, said some veterans may have had appointments rescheduled because of staffing issues or other contingencies. But he said in his 15 years with the agency, he’s never heard of employees telling people seeking appointments to call back in six months.

But he said local VA officials will looking into the allegation and, if it proves to be true, correct the situation.

“That’s not the way it’s supposed to be done,” Gleisberg said.

The VA audit said 977 veterans who sought appointments over the past decade – 636 at the Wichita VA medical center and 341 in the eastern Kansas system did not get one. The report showed an average wait time for new, primary-care patients of 41 days in the eastern Kansas system and 35 days at the Wichita medical center.

Also, in January, the VA closed the Topeka medical center’s emergency room, citing staffing issues – after the facility had been diverting emergency patients to other local hospitals for months.

Christine Allen, a 51-year-old former U.S. Army truck driver from Topeka, said she collapsed last June during a bout of pneumonia and was sent to a local hospital instead of the VA medical center. She came to the VA facility Thursday night after vomiting up blood and told Jenkins and Moran that she was pleased with the care she’s getting.

“There’s been no problem with me getting in and getting seen for anything, really,” she later told reporters. “Usually, it’s just a few days at most.”

Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna.

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