Results: Missouri VA facilities in good condition, minimal problems cited
Today, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill released the results of a two-month, staff-led assessment of Missouri's 22 Veterans Administration health care facilities, including 5 hospitals and 17 outpatient clinics. Despite several problems cited by veterans and health professionals, the overall results indicated that Missouri VA medical facilities are in good condition and deliver a high quality of care.
Veterans accompanied the seven members of McCaskill's staff who conducted the study to ensure insights from facility users were represented. Staff indicated that of the nearly 500 veterans they spoke with at the various facilities, most spoke highly of the care and conditions of the facilities.
"Unlike the deplorable conditions we saw at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, this initial study of the veterans' health care facilities in Missouri is encouraging," McCaskill said. "However, this makes my visits throughout the state with veterans in the coming week all that more important. I am interested in hearing from the veterans about their experiences, both good and bad, in obtaining the benefits they need to receive this top notch VA medical care."
In total, McCaskill will visit 15 cities throughout Missouri over a four-day period next week to visit with local veterans about their experiences.
McCaskill was inspired to conduct the initial study based on the VA's nationwide review of its own facilities which indicated that a number of clinics and hospitals had problems, including one with a bat infestation. The study also cited problems at the St. Louis VA Medical Center locations, with four deficiencies found at the Jefferson Barracks facility and one at the John Cochran facility. The problems, which included deteriorating walls and peeling paint, had been addressed when McCaskill staff toured the facilities during the study.
While a vast majority of the feedback and assessments of Missouri VA medical facilities and care were positive, there were several concerns expressed on a wide variety of topics ranging from patient care to administrative issues to the concerns of health professionals.
"I'm eager to speak with these Missouri veterans themselves to hear how widespread any existing concerns are at this point," McCaskill said. "I'm committed to doing what I can through casework and legislation to help veterans get the benefits they deserve."
Recently, McCaskill has not only introduced legislation with Senator Barack Obama to study the mental health of service members returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, but she was also successful in including an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill to study the feasibility of increasing the number of health professionals accessible to active military members. McCaskill's state-based study indicates that some veterans would also like additional access to mental health services for themselves and their families.
Wait times for clinic visits was a concern for some veterans, as waitlists of up to 300 patients at some Missouri facilities caused delays for up to a year to get an appointment. And some veterans waited from two to 10 months for appointments at specialty clinics. The Columbia clinic's piloting seamless transition program was a promising initiative that allowed patients to see professionals in primary care, behavioral care, and social work all at once. McCaskill staff members were told the program would be available to all VA facilities by the end of the year.
Both veterans and health care professionals expressed concern over proposed increases in co-payments designed to overcome the shortfall in VA funding. Doctors and nurses also had isolated complaints related to the need for more space, specialized training and additional social workers. McCaskill's Wounded Warriors bill introduced with Obama would increase the number of social workers in active military facilities. McCaskill believes the same enhancements could be made within the VA.