The administration at the Spark Matsunaga VA Medical Center in Honolulu is speaking out for the first time following a scathing government audit.
The report revealed Hawaii had a wait time of 145 days for new veterans to get a first appointment there. The survey came as a shock to the local community.
“Even before the national news came up over the last few months about what happened on the mainland, we were looking at our processes and how we can improve efficiency, tackle some of the unique challenges we have for wait times that our veterans have for new appointments,” said Patricia Matthews, Veterans Affairs.
One of those unique challenges is that the medical center serves veteran patients from as far away as Guam, American Samoa and Saipan. There is a local contact to help veterans seeking medical assistance, a state organization called Veterans Services.
“We have been trying to insert, through a patients advocate on the VA side or with the veterans benefits concern on the federal side, to see if we could kind of maybe move those things along,” said Ron Han with Veterans Services.
On the federal side, Matthews says the Spark Matsunaga VA Medical Center has a new director on board for just seven months who is looking to new approaches in speeding up the process — eliminating some paperwork, telehealth for distance health care and asking veterans themselves how to move things along.
“Ultimately, what we want to do is make it better for each and every person coming through that door, who has put their life on the line to serve our country, military, again, my fellow veterans as well, and we’re going to do better,” Matthews said.
She concedes hard work is ahead, but is optimistic important changes can be made.