Local VA officials say that progress is being made in timely medical care

Back in April, a scandal involving the Dept. of Veterans Affairs started in Phoenix, with patients dying while they waited for treatment.

Knowledge of just how bad things were quickly spread, including here in Hawaii.

A survey in June showed the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center in Honolulu had the longest wait time in the country when it came to seeing veterans for a first visit. Since then, that time continues to be shortened.

U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono held a field hearing Tuesday to hear from veterans and VA leaders in an effort to find out if progress is being made in solving the problem.

“The plans are working out very well,” said Wayne Pfeffer, director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System, “and the waiting list is coming down and, hopefully, it will be eliminated in the very near future.”

Pfeffer acknowledged that it is difficult for veterans on neighbor islands to make appointments. There are plans for more mobile clinics there.

“We also found that the physicians didn’t have the staff below them — the nurses, the clerks — to really maximize the productivity of the physician, so we’re hiring additional support staff so physicians can spend more productive time with patients.”

Pfeffer said he has been in contact with the University of Hawaii’s medical school, trying to find more doctors who would sign on with the VA.

Senator Hirono said that could be a plus. “They would welcome more residency spots and slots with the VA,” she said. “We all know if your doctors come from the state in which they are going to be practicing, they are more likely to stay.”

Today’s proceedings will become part of the Congressional Record for any further legislative action.

When asked if he heard anything during the hearing that was encouraging, Vietnam veteran Steve Kelly said “yes and no. I’ve done extensive research on problem-solving  the veterans’ issues. I’ve put it into the record.

“Overall, they reiterate the same thing — every time they meet and (say) that they’re doing this, they’re doing that, but it ends up the same thing keeps on happening.”

Kelly also described his frustration in dealing with the VA medical system, the problems in even getting the needed care and trying to relate to what he considers disrespectful doctors.

The VA will hold a town hall meeting at the Oahu Veterans Center on Sept. 26.

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