Local veteran describes long wait for VA care


Local veteran describes long wait for VA care

MISSOULA, Mont. - A national audit found veterans didn't get appointments with their primary VA doctor as quickly as promised.

Even though the standard is 14 days, auditors found 57,000 vets waited more than 90 days.

The report comes after allegations that some veterans waited so long, they died from preventable problems.

Auditors reported the system is overly complicated. They say 13 of schedulers falsified dates and clerks and supervisors were confused.

Montana has one VA hospital. The audit found patients trying to get into Fort Harrison in Helena waited an average of 48 days for their first appointment. That's three times longer than the 14-day goal.

NBC Montana talked with one veteran on Monday afternoon who told us the VA has been a struggle to work with. He has had back pain for several years and it seems to be getting worse. He wants to lead a normal life where he can work again.

"I went back to the VA system and it's been a bit of a nightmare from there," said Patrick Bowler.

Bowler has been fighting back pain since 1996.

"We don't go to Helena very often because it's such a long wait," said Bowler.

Bowler thinks that the issues in Phoenix and larger cities are a lot worse than in Montana, but it's still frustrating to him.

"Their initial impression is, ‘Oh here's a couple Motrins, some ibuprofen. Suck it up, deal with it, you'll be fine,'" said Bowler.

He believes the staff size in Helena can't keep up with the growing needs in Montana.

"Increased workload with the added soldiers coming back from overseas, and they haven't increased the staffing," said Bowler.

NBC Montana reached out to the Public Affairs Officer for the VA Montana Health Care System.

"Many of the challenges that are facing the VA today include staffing, and as well as in the case of Montana, is a matter of distance. We remain committed to providing our veterans with the quality health care that they deserve and that's our objective every single day," said Randy Martin.

"I have a doctor who is awesome and he's doing his best, but in order to get anything done, he's having to mark things down as emergency and truly when it has to wait to the point that it is an emergency, who would want to do that?" said Bowler.

Martin says they strive to provide veterans with the appointment that is clinically appropriate nd they try to do it in under 30 days. He also tells NBC Montana that they are looking everyday to recruit the best health care professionals.

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