Lakeshore Report

Veterans, VA Officials React to Crown Point Clinic Audit

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By: Hilary Powell

June 13, 2014 — Marine veteran Anthony Dawson won three Purple Hearts in service of his country which he says is payment enough for his treatment at the veteran affairs Adam Benjamin Jr. Outpatient Center in Crown Point, Ind.

“I go to the VA because I’m retired and basically the illnesses that I have are wartime connected,” he says. “I don’t want to say the insurance is free, because it’s not. Freedom isn’t free.”

The Vietnam War veteran says he has never experienced a long wait at Adam Benjamin, where he goes for medicine and primary care as a 100 percent disabled patient.

“Adam Benjamin is a breeze,” Dawson says. “It’s five minutes from my house and I’m in and out. Even my wife comments about how polite they are.”

But a nationwide access audit released June 9th from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows some Hoosier service men and women aren’t afforded the same speedy care.

“In my home state of Indiana, confirmed audit findings show that veterans endured unacceptably long wait times,” says U.S. Senator Dan Coats. “For some Hoosier veterans, never even receiving an appointment. This is unacceptable.”

Sen. Coats spoke on the Senate floor this week in support of the Sanders-McCain Veterans Bill. Senate leaders approved the bill, which will provide emergency funding to hire more doctors and nurses, authorize 26 new VA facilities, and allow VA authority to refer veterans to private care. It’s all an effort to combat with the department calls “systemic problems in accessing VA healthcare.”

Sen. Coats adds, “The VA needs a change of culture. Too many bureaucrats view our veterans as a list of numbers, rather than the heroes worthy of our very best care.”

The audit shows 90 percent of all appointments were scheduled within 30days at Adam Benjamin.

The average wait time for new patient primary care appointments was 40 days and nearly 43 days for a new patient to secure a mental health appointment.

“I mean, they have to be taken care of,” Dawson says. “I believe that they need, uh probably more psychiatrists. Uh, it seems like everybody has some kind of PTSD problem.”

As a result of the audit the Adam Benjamin clinic was flagged for further review. It is one of the 112 clinics which require further investigation according to a June 11th letter from Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson.

Adam Benjamin spokesperson Kevin Harris says in an email to lakeshore, “The facility has not been contacted by the VA Office of Inspector General (…) and has not been instructed to launch a formal administrative investigation.”

Clinic director Jill charley says a 14 day waiting window for new patients is a common goal set and met at the clinic.

“We have no patients who are waiting longer than fourteen days,” she says. “All new patients are seen within 14 days.”

The VA audit found the 14 day wait time performance target for new appointments was “not attainable.”

The Sanders-McCain Bill eliminates wait times as an employee performance measure used to determine bonuses for VA employees.

On this day, Dawson is receiving a routine dental checkup and he says he hopes the audit will be a wake-up for VA facilities to get veterans off wait lists and into clinics.

“I certainly hope it’s at the point now where the American people will totally be fed up with any misconduct given to the veterans,” Dawson says.

VA officials say they are continuing to reach out to veterans awaiting care. Senator Coats is pressing the justice department to determine if criminal charges are warranted based on audit findings.

June 13, 2014 Statement from VA Office of Public Affairs

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