Sen. Hagan visits local VA hospital, says improvements are in the works

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 26, 2014 

— North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan said she learned on a visit to the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center this week that scheduling technology was outdated and space was inadequate in light of the large growth in the region’s veterans population.

In the past 12 months, 9,000 veterans have been added to the 157,000 who already live in the area, Hagan said in an interview on Thursday.

She said the Fayetteville hospital, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care network, had approval to lease additional space and was looking at adding a 15,000 square-foot building until a large new facility in the works is completed.

“I want to make sure that we follow up with the VA in Fayetteville and in Washington to make sure that happens in as timely a way as possible and equipment is installed so new veterans can get access and schedule appointments,” Hagan said.

The VA has been cast in unfavorable light recently as reports have surfaced of long waits for appointments and treatment at its medical centers. A recent audit showed the Fayetteville hospital had some of the longest waits in the country – 83 days – for new patients trying to get primary care.

Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson visited the Fayetteville facility earlier this month at Hagan’s request, she said. He said then that the waits were due to lack of space and problems recruiting and retaining doctors and nurses. Hagan visited the facility Monday and met with Gibson Wednesday.

Gibson has said that the VA would commit $7.4 million to upgrade the Fayetteville center, including its software for scheduling appointments, a 2005 program based on a 1985 platform

Thom Tillis, Republican speaker of the state House and Hagan’s opponent in the fall election, has accused her of failing to hold the Obama administration accountable for the long waits at VA medical centers.

“Kay Hagan and President (Barack) Obama have failed to keep their promise to create a `world-class’ health-care system for veterans, and the problems and mismanagement plaguing VA medical centers have only gotten worse over the last six years,” Tillis campaign manager Jordan Shaw said in a recent statement.

Hagan said that “like so many people in our state I am absolutely appalled” by the scheduling problems and no veteran should have to wait for medical treatment.

“I think Thom Tillis should be ashamed that he is using our veterans as a political pawn in his comments,” she said. “From the day I came into office veterans have been a top priority of mine,” she said.

Her office has helped veterans get health care and disability benefits, and 4,500 of their cases have been solved since she took office in 2009, she said. Hagan also said that her office also brought to light the backlog of disability claims in the Winston-Salem VA office, where the addition of new employees has helped reduce the claims processing time.

“This is a time when we as elected officials ought to be doing everything we can together to help our veterans and to get the trust and faith of our veterans back into the support systems they so aptly deserve,” she said.

Email: rschoof@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @reneeschoof.

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