Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Medical care lacking, some veterans say

Medical care lacking, some veterans say

Specialty services often require traveling.
War may be hell, but peace is no little slice of heaven.

At least some of the county's military veterans feel that way about their post-service health care.

But others say they've been treated fairly once they hung up their uniforms.


Larry Garcia, who is retired from the military reserves and served in Iraq in 2004-2005, gets his lungs checked by Dr. Jeanette Paz Kuizon, at the VA Merced outpatient clinic in Merced.

Eli PaintedCrow has complained for years about the lack of medical services available for military veterans in Merced County.

The Veterans Affairs Merced Outpatient Clinic, whose parent company is the VA Central California Health Care System in Fresno, has limited services, PaintedCrow said. "They don't have therapists in Merced, period. The VA has never bothered to look for qualified therapists to work in Merced. They also don't provide physical therapy, which I'm in need of."

PaintedCrow, 50, who served in the U.S. Army and completed two tours of duty in Iraq, has to travel to the main facility in Fresno to get the services she needs -- and that's not easy. In addition to the long travel, appointments can be as much as two months away, she said. "They brag about being the No.1 in the nation, yet they fail to see the places that need correction, even if they've been told year after year about what's not happening in Merced County," she said of the VA Central California. "I really think Merced needs to improve its services."

While some veterans in Merced County have a tough time getting the services that are owed to them, others have had a positive experience, but say improvements could be made.

Antonio Talamantes, 27, who served in the Marine Corps, said he usually seeks services in Merced, but also travels to Fresno when he needs specialized services.

He was at the clinic in Merced recently and was told that he was going to have to travel to Fresno to get X-rays done. Talamantes, who suffers from lower-back pain, received a letter in the mail a few days later indicating his appointment to get the X-rays done is on Dec. 2. "That was pretty quick," he said.

Sean Hinds, acting program director for Public Affairs at the main facility in Fresno, said their goal is to see a patient within 30 days of the referral.

Talamantes said overall, he can't complain about the service in Merced or in Fresno. "I think they've been doing a really good job in helping us out," he said. Still, he said he "could always hope that there would be more doctors" at the clinic in Merced.

VA services in Merced

Shannon Deen, clinical nurse manager at the Merced clinic, said it has three primary care physicians. Two of them are full-time and one is part-time.

One of the providers is a woman, and she sees most of the female patients, Deen said. Overall, they serve more than 3,000 veterans in primary care.

There are about 12,000 veterans in Merced County. According to the most recent figures, as of 2008, there were an estimated 23.4 million living veterans in the U.S. Only about 8.4 million of them received veterans benefits and services that year, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Deen said the facility in Merced is mainly a primary care clinic. Mental health is provided, since they employ a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Lab work also is done in Merced.

Deen said the clinic is going to begin using a telehealth system. The system, which consists of a monitor and a camera, connects the patient with a provider via videostream. "It's going to allow us to prevent some of the travel to Fresno for specialty services," she said. "We will be able to connect people with a specialist, but the patient will come to Merced to be seen."

Depending on a patient's issue, providers in Merced will be able to take images and send them to Fresno to be examined. Deen said some specialist visits will still have to made to Fresno, but the new telehealth system will help reduce the number of trips.

The clinic also plans to expand other services, such as group therapy and diabetes education, among others.

According to Deen, the clinic in Merced will have to expand its staff as the demand increases. "Once we get enough patients to require more staff, we'll look at hiring," she added.

Hinds said the clinic in Merced used to be located in Atwater, but it was recently transferred to a new location in Merced on East Yosemite Avenue. He said the new location has more space to accommodate demand in Merced.

Deen said new veterans are welcome to stop by the clinic and register for services.

The VA Central California's budget is $164 million a year, Hinds said. The VA satellite clinics in Merced and in Tulare are under the same budget, and so is the new clinic in Oakhurst, which is scheduled to open in 2011.

Transportation to Merced and Fresno The Disabled American Veterans offers a shuttle service from Merced to the facility in Fresno, Deen said. Also, the clinic in Merced recently began a program to bring patients to the clinic from surrounding communities, such as Atwater, Los Banos, Turlock and Mariposa. To bring patients "into the clinic even from across town," she continued.

She said the transportation program will also help homeless veterans. There's a pickup point near a homeless shelter in Merced.

Other services for veterans in Merced County:

Merced County Veteran Services Officer Darren Hughes said the county helps veterans file claims and referrals for other services. He said the CVSO sees more than 2,000 office visits a year.

Hughes said his agency enjoys a 99 percent success rate in the claims that are awarded. The awarded claims bring in an average of $1.8 million a year in benefits.

The CVSO also helps bring in an average of $250,000 worth of college fee waivers per year, but not all of them are spent in Merced, Hughes said.

However, he said not all veterans are aware of these services. "It's always a challenge to reach out to every deserving veteran to make them aware that these benefits may be available to them," he added.

According to Hughes, many of their clients are still from the Vietnam era and a few from World War II. A couple of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan also seek their services. "We serve all," he said.

Just as his clients did for their country.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 388-6507, or yamaro@mercedsun-star.com.
Read more: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2010/11/23/1664976_p2/medical-care-lacking-some-veterans.html#ixzz17SLjEBaq


I get all of my medical care from the VA health care system and I have since I became totally disabled in June 2002, and I have nothing but good things to say about it, but then I live near two major VAMC's the one in Augusta Ga which has two facilities Downtown and Uptown, and then I live 5 miles from Dorn VA in Columbia SC, I choose to drive to Augusta for my medical care as I like the doctors and support staff that work there, I have no respect for the people at Dorn, they treat veterans like they are a nuisance, rather than the reason they have a job.

Not all VA treatment facilities have all services and even at Dorn they send people to salisbury NC for some treatments, as far as I know Augusta VA treats all medical conditions.

Veterans that choose to live in small towns or near small VA community based clinics have made the shoice to accept the available care available to them, if they really wanted better healthcare they would move to a town or city that would allow them access to the services they want or desire, the VA will provide healthcare for all service connected veterans but no where have I ever seen where they said they would provide full medical facilties in every town in America, if you live in a town or the country you will have to travel to where the facility is, if you have a service connected issue they do pay veterans travel pay to get to these facilities.

I know I have extensive medical issues and I need to be near a major medical center due to my cardiac issues, so I bought a home near a VA medical center for this reason, my future is more medical care and I needed to be near a VA medical center so after I was medically retired I moved to be near a VA medical center, all veterans have that option, no one is forced to live anywhere. Is it not cost effective to build major VA facilties in every town in America, and it is not the VAs fault it is the fact of having a budget that Congress sets.

Not all VAMCs have PTSD lock down wards, not all of them do open heart surgery etc if you need these services they pay to transport the veteran to a facility that does provide these services or they authorize the service thru the fee-basis program in the local community.

I have seen far more satisfaction with VA health care than I have seen people upset with it, most veterans I know would much rather keep the VA health care system as it is today, than to go to a national health care card and be told we can go to any hospital or doctor for treatment and then they would close all the VA hospitals, no veterans I know advocates that type of system, VA doctors and nurses understand the medical issues that concern veterans, most if the issues and the causes are similar and veterans seem to enjoy being with other veterans when they are seriously ill and or hospitalized. Regardless of what branch they served in there is a brotherhood with all veterans regardless of what war, what branch etc. VA health care is still one of the most approved government services we have.

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