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The Journal Gazette

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette Vietnam veteran John Lumpkin speaks during a public town-hall meeting Monday on patient care issues at the VA Medical Center.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 5:34 pm

VA officials get earful on medical care

Dave Gong The Journal Gazette

Patient advocacy, issues with the types of medication prescribed, long wait times and inadequate communication and doctor staffing levels at the Fort Wayne VA Medical Center were among the complaints many veterans voiced Monday at a town hall-style meeting.

Department of Veterans Affairs officials hosted the meeting to get feedback from veterans and their families about the care they receive when using VA services and facilities. About 70 people attended the forum. 

Fort Wayne resident Dori Overly said her husband, Gary, a retired U.S. Marine, is not getting the care he needs from VA because his primary caregiver is not a doctor but a licensed practical nurse. 

"We don’t need care providers. You have care providers in nursery schools," she said. "We need physicians, not care providers. He’s not getting the help he needs; most of these men aren’t." 

Overly said she had heard VA-related horror stories in the past but now that she and her husband are living one, she understands other veterans’ concerns. 

"And they say Fort Wayne VA is one of the better VAs," she said. "I’m astounded. Just astounded."

After the meeting, Overly said she’s not sure of how effective public forums like Monday’s will be at helping fulfill her husband’s needs.

Ajay Dhawan, chief of staff at the VA Medical Center, said several new doctors were hired recently, including a primary-care physician. The facility plans to hire 12 to 14 more doctors within the coming months, he said. 

"We are not going to stop until all those access issues and all those concerns are resolved," Dhawan said. 

The shuffling of doctors and caregivers to cover staff vacancies can cause a lot of discontinuity for veterans seeking treatment, Dhawan said, noting that it isn’t "very friendly" for the patients. However, the Fort Wayne VA is doing the best it can given the circumstances, he said, because there is a nationwide need for primary care physicians at VA medical centers. 

"Nationally, there is a push, everybody is trying to do more primary care hires," he said. "Everybody realizes nationally that we are short of primary care."

Dhawan said the Fort Wayne VA is "competing in a very tough market" and is doing its best to attract people to northeastern Indiana. 

"I think so far we have shown plenty of success and we are hopeful for the coming future," he said. 

Himanshu Singh, acting director of the VA Medical Center, recognized patient advocacy as a weakness the facility is currently trying to deal with. Patient advocates help address concerns and problems veterans may have with their care. 

"We’ve hired another patient advocate, because, you know, sometimes we sit there and we complain and we complain, we have to look and if we’re only one deep and you have a thousand calls coming in, you’re not setting up the system for success," he said. "So we have been trying to look at it one area at a time and see what is broken – is it a systems issue, is it a resource issue, or is it a process issue – and then try to address it one at a time." 

Although many of the comments directed toward VA officials and staff Monday were negative, Vietnam veteran John Lumpkin commended the local VA on the job it is able to do despite the challenges.

Lumpkin is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

"To the staff of this facility, and for you people up front, you have done everything you can do with what you have to work with," he said.

"On behalf of me, sir, a Vietnam veteran, PTSD, 100 percent disabled, with other items in my body that you had nothing to do with, I thank you for trying to help me."