IVINS — Following the recent passing of a Veterans Affairs reform bill, Congressman Chris Stewart visited a group of veterans at the Southern Utah Veterans Home in Ivins Tuesday night, holding a town hall meeting, addressing the veterans and taking their questions.
The reforms authorize the halting of financial bonuses for VA employees, give some veterans the ability to seek private care if necessary, and give Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald the authority to fire senior officials for mismanagement.
The purpose of the town hall meeting, Stewart said, was to take questions regarding the bill and the frustrations associated with VA medical care.
“We can’t solve all the problems,” he said. “We run into something that isn’t an easy answer but we want to help you.”
One veteran on oxygen who was in a wheel chair asked the first question: Why does it take so long to see a doctor?
“To call it unacceptable (to have to wait for health care) is extraordinarily gracious,” Stewart said regarding the question. “It is incomprehensible that there are situations where veterans are passing away while waiting for service. It’s absolutely ridiculous that the best country that God has ever given man cannot take care of their own veterans to the point that they are losing their lives while waiting for service.”
Individuals who are responsible for veterans having to wait, because of dishonesty in those individuals’ protocols, should be held accountable, he said.
Health and medical care on the battlefield is consistent, Stewart said. It is the medical care for the veterans at home that isn’t being met.
Participating in the town hall meeting were some angry and frustrated veterans and Stewart addressed their issues to the best of his ability.
Veteran Craig Thomson’s frustration was expressed in such an argumentative way with the congressman that he was removed from the meeting by police officers for a sort of time out. His complaints stemmed from his yearly appointment being pushed forward six months, having to schedule appointments 30-45 days in advance, not having doctors look at previous medical history when examining him as a patient, and feeling unimportant in the country as a veteran.
“I keep calling back (to the doctor) and keep having to wait,” Thomson said. “This kind of service isn’t something you can change by just throwing in money; we need to have good leadership. I came to talk to you in Cedar City in December (2013) and you didn’t have time to talk to me, you just wanted to talk to people who were prominent in the area.”
“I am a veteran and I come from a family of veterans,” Stewart, who has a father and brothers who are veterans, said. “I have never said in my life that veterans weren’t important.”
After Thomson was removed, he was allowed to return to the meeting but did not speak again.
Veterans’ concerns included travel to Salt Lake City or elsewhere for care rather than getting it from home, not having a 24-hour line for emergencies and the lack of proper record keeping.
“What’s the first thing we need to do?” Gordon Poppitt said. “The record keeping in Salt Lake City sucks and that is putting it nicely. They haven’t got a clue. You get promises and they don’t get resolved. Maybe address that.”
Stewart said follow up and input to Congress with consistent follow up with veterans will help the situations being faced.
“I pledge to you, Congress wants to serve the veterans and do what we can to make it better,” he said.
Knowing that veterans are having a bad experience, Stewart said, he wanted to come and have them tell their stories.
“These are my constituents,” he said. “I have no magic bullet to fix it all, but with long hard discipline we can make a concerted effort.”
Seeing headlines in the paper regarding veterans dying while waiting for proper care is unacceptable, Stewart said.
With a report due this month in Congress regarding VA service, Stewart said he hopes to bring some solutions to the problems.
Veterans Affairs is overwhelmed with angry veterans and citizens, Stewart said, over the U.S. still being at war while VA medical care is lacking at home.
Stewart encouraged the veterans to call and voice their concerns to his office regarding their health care problems so they can get the help they need.
The meeting was not a way to encourage re-election, Stewart said, who is the incumbent running for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District seat in November.
“There was a concern and I came to help address it,” he said.
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