Jackie Speier seeks answers to VA problems

Jackie Speier

In an effort to target specific issues within the U.S. Department for Veterans Affairs for San Francisco and the Peninsula, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier went to the San Francisco VA Medical Center to confront a crowded hall of angry veterans who felt not enough resources were being put into their care.

“If we’re willing to pay the price tag for going to war, then we should be willing to pay the price tag for providing services to our veterans,” said Speier, D-San Mateo.

Almost 20 veterans took their turn at the microphone to voice their concerns with an antiquated software and phone system along with shocking personal experiences including five-month waiting periods for simple foot issues and blatant neglect by the administration that a large group of veterans contend is direct retaliation against them for filing complaints.

El Granada resident Charlie Hall claimed the San Bruno VA Outpatient Clinic gave him the runaround after the Palo Alto VA offices were billed $3,800, but then went after him because the VA hadn’t paid them.

“I can’t get assistance on either end of this thing,” Hall said.

Other veterans, such as Pacific Heights resident Juan Dianda, contended that the VA’s system was too reliant on pharmaceuticals, an issue that had been brought up with a number of veteran officials in Congress who aim to limit the amount of psychotropic and opiate drugs given to veterans.

But Bonnie Graham, director of the San Francisco VA Medical Center, said she didn’t know about any retaliation or specific issues of doctors over-prescribing pain killers.

“We have people who will look into this,” said Graham. “There’s a lot of different factors that go into each claim.”

Last week, Speier went to the VA Palo Alto Health Care System and said she found similarities in the problems with poor waiting periods, especially in dealing with orthopedic claims.

One veteran claimed he had to wait five months to see a foot specialist because the VA only has one doctor available once a month to deal with foot and ankle injuries due to a lack of demand.

Baby boomers from the Vietnam War are getting older, Speier said, and the demand should be getting higher and more orthopedic specialists should be coming in more frequently.

“We knew about this problem as far back as 2005,” Speier said. “We have to take responsibility now.”

Both the congresswoman and Graham agreed that the solutions to fix the VA are not simple and there is a wide breadth of problems that would need to be addressed.

“The software that these people are using is not acceptable,” said Speier, adding that salary gaps for public and private doctors have also created a shortage at the VA.

“We’re always getting veteran input by having veterans on our teams,” Graham said. “We have the issues narrowed down to what people want, but this is a continuous process of improvement.”

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