Healthcare troubleshooting for Chattahoochee Valley veterans - WRBL

Healthcare troubleshooting for Chattahoochee Valley veterans

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Local veterans are reaching out to WRBL News 3 to say they cannot get medical appointments with Veterans' Affairs healthcare offices. This comes as lawmakers call for tighter oversight of the VA nationwide after allegations patients died of long wait times and document mismanagement.

Danell Wright is one Chattahoochee River Valley veteran who says he is having problems with the system. Wright, who says he fell from a helicopter while on active duty, sustained a shoulder injury that requires surgery. He also has a myriad of dental problems he says needs to be resolved. Wright claims he needs crowns, root canals and work on his partial fillings.

He says the old fillings are falling out. He believes he has even swallowed some of them in his sleep.

"My doctor has called me back in January and told me that when she took x-rays of my stomach that it showed up stating that I had shrapnel in my stomach," he says. "I told my doctor that I had never been in a blast situation with shrapnel."

Wright says he needs root canals, crowns and partial fillings corrected but his dental appointments are always canceled. He claims he has been waiting for over a year.

"Every time I’ve had an appointment come up they call me and say the doc dentist is not in,” he says.

The Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System is responding to his claims. The Director of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System James Talton says Wright's electronic record tells a somewhat different account than the one conveyed to News 3.

“His appointment has been canceled once in the past year," Talton says. "He has been treated multiple times (more than twice) since January 2013 and he has an appointment this month.”

In that written statement Talton goes on to say:

"As a Veteran myself, I expect every eligible Veteran to receive the health care and respect she or he has earned in service to our nation. I apologize for the inconvenience and frustration our processes and, sometimes, our interactions with Veterans and their family members produce. The problems noted above do not meet my expectations of us. I am assembling an Executive Leadership Team who, working with a core of dedicated employees, will wire much higher standards into the way we provide care to Veterans. "

In his conversations with News 3, Talton also addressed a number of other concerns.

"I acknowledge that telephone service is an area of significant concern for Veterans and employees," he says. "The problem is twofold."

He explains they first need to simplify phone access for veterans. Last fall, the VA standardized the phone tree for VA Medical Centers. However, when the process was implemented locally some telephone extensions were misrouted, according to Talton. They are in the process of determining where every telephone in the medical center rings. Talton cautions the project could take some time because there are hundreds of telephone extensions in the medical center.

There is also increased telephone traffic, Talton says. There has been an unanticipated mismatch between telephone call volume and staffing levels.

"I have committed resources to establish a Telephone Call Center with staff dedicated exclusively to improving telephone access for veterans and their family members," he says. "We are in the process of  standing up the Call Center. Some employees for the Call Center have been hired and others are in various stages of the hiring process. Additionally, we are at various stages of actively hiring several employees to staff the clinics; one of the duties of the additional employees is to staff telephones in the clinics.

The new call center will help veterans avoid problems where no one returns their call or they are unable to get speak with a representative to setup an appointment.

In an effort to provide closer, more frequent care, Talton says they have partnered with other medical offices.

"We have partnered with community providers in the Columbus-Phenix City area to provide Primary Care services," he says. "We are implementing extended hours clinics (evenings and Saturdays) at the Columbus Clinic. We have hired two additional physicians at the Columbus Clinic."

Talton provided phone numbers for Veterans who experience difficulty obtaining an appointment. They should contact a Patient Advocate at 334-727-0550 extension 3816 or extension 3937. Additionally, questions regarding benefit claims or service can be directed to 334-272-4670, extension 5527. The Office of the Chief of Staff can be reached at 334-727-0550, extension 4096.

Editor's Note: Phone numbers were incorrectly given Monday night and Tuesday morning on television and our Web site. The number for the Patient Advocate was given as 334-272-0550, extension 3816, instead of 334-727-0550, extension 3816. Additionally, the number of the Office of the Chief of Staff was provided as 334-727-0550, extension 4096, instead of 334-272-0550, extension 3816.

Teresa Whitaker

In addition to co-anchoring the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights, Teresa serves as the Healthwatch reporter for WRBL. More>>

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