Bitterroot vet reacts to national VA scandal, local health care demands increase


Bitterroot vet reacts to national VA scandal, local health care demands increase

HAMILTON, Mont. - To get a thumbnail of how the national VA scandal is playing out in Montana, NBC Montana went to Ravalli County.

It's home to about 5,000 veterans, one of the highest per capita vet populations in Montana.

Health care needs in the valley are growing in large numbers.

Valley Veterans Service Center in Hamilton helps veterans obtain benefits and other services.

Rocky Kemp dropped into the center for a visit on Thursday.

The Marine Corps veteran talked about his veteran friends in Arizona and Texas.

He recounted the story of a Texas veteran friend who drives 150 miles for diabetes treatment.

"He's gone over there three times in the past two weeks," said Kemp,"and had to go back home again without treatment. To me," he said,"that's criminal."

Kemp thinks the people who are fault in this growing scandal, need to be replaced.

But Kemp is happy with the veteran health care he's received in Montana.

"I'm disappointed with what has been happening nationwide," he said. "But here in Montana, I've had no problems at all."

Health care demands by veterans in the Bitterroot are growing.

The Valley Veterans Service Center used to get about 17 veteran visits a week.

Last week was a record.

"Last week we had 25 veterans in one day," said the center's head administrator Cassity Patterson."Most of those pertained to VHA claims."

Accredited claims agent Matthew Getz said he has seen a gradual increase in the periods of time veterans have to wait for non-emergency medical appointments.

He said a month or two ago, the normal wait time would be 30 days.

"That's begun shifting to the 60 day time frame," said Getz. "In the past week I've had a half dozen clients who have shown me their appointment schedule letters for appointments being scheduled up to 90 days out."

Randy Martin from the VA's Montana Health Care System, said "We try to make every attempt to get patients appointments within 30 days of their desired date."

Getz thinks the Montana VHA has been proactive.

Across the country, veterans who qualify for emergency care under VHA are often getting billed because they are being misguided through incomplete information.

The Veterans Administration at Fort Harrison is distributing cards with phone numbers for veterans who are enrolled in the veterans health care system.

It's an attempt to help vets  who need emergency care.

They need to call the Network Authorization telephone number.

That number is 1-888-795-0773.

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