Larsen Continues Commitment To Veterans Following Six Roundtables

Sep 9, 2015 Issues: Veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Following a series of six recent roundtables with veterans across the Second Congressional District, Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, today thanked the approximately 414 veterans and their family members who attended.

Larsen heard questions and comments from veterans on a variety of issues, including reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and successes and challenges getting access to services like health care, job training and housing. He provided a summary of some of the themes from the roundtables and underscored his continued commitment to connecting veterans with the services they need.

“I had the opportunity recently to meet with more than 400 veterans and their family members at six roundtables across Northwest Washington. I am grateful to all the veterans and their families who took time to meet with me during these events. Their ideas will help me do a better job working on their behalf in Congress. And I thank all veterans in the Second District and across the country for their service.

“Common themes emerged during all of the roundtables, including questions about the VA Choice program, services available at the Mount Vernon Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and the VA backlog. Based on the feedback I heard, I will be looking in the coming weeks at some ways to continue improving veterans’ access to the services they need. My office also will be working to help more than two dozen veterans who attended the roundtables with their individual circumstances.

“I have always worked to be an advocate for local veterans in Congress by pushing to address their needs for health care, education, employment and housing. My commitment remains steadfast as I continue to look for solutions that support our country’s veterans,” Larsen said.

Larsen provided the following updates based on common themes from the roundtables:

VA Choice

One major VA reform that I voted for and Congress passed in 2014 created VA Choice, a three-year program to allow veterans living more than 40 miles from VA health care, or who had waited more than 30 days for a VA appointment, to access non-VA care at no extra cost. 

At the roundtables, many veterans had concerns and questions about VA Choice. Some veterans shared that the Choice program helped them get the care they need in a more timely way, while others have had major challenges. Representatives from the VA Puget Sound Health Care System attended the roundtables and helped answer veterans’ questions about how the program is supposed to work and how to navigate the system. I will be looking at whether there are ways to adjust Choice to get rid of roadblocks for veterans in Northwest Washington. Veterans with questions about the Choice program can call the Choice Champions Call Center at 206-764-2876. [More useful phone numbers are available here.]

CBOC update

I had the opportunity to tour the Mount Vernon CBOC and hear about the various services the clinic offers. Residents in the North Puget Sound rightly advocated for the clinic several years ago, and I was pleased to work with Senator Patty Murray to open the clinic and bring VA services closer to veterans in the Second Congressional District. Now the clinic has become a victim of its own success because demand has outgrown what the facility can provide. The clinic was designed to serve 6,500 patients, and it is now serving 8,500. The clinic is currently working to address its shortage of primary care doctors through different recruiting and retention efforts.

Many veterans at the roundtables expressed frustration that they could not get into the clinic in a timely way, and they wanted to know why the clinic does not have enough doctors. Part of the issue is the high demand for the clinic. VA facilities also are competing with private hospitals and clinics for doctors amid a national primary care physician shortage. These are not excuses, but explanations for what is happening in at the Mount Vernon CBOC. Clinic leaders I spoke with are actively working to hire more primary care doctors.

VA representatives at the roundtables discussed the possibility of another CBOC north of Seattle. I am ready to get to work to make a new clinic a reality to bring more accessible health care to veterans.

On the mental health care side, I want to be clear that the CBOC accepts walk-in patients weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. These same-day appointments are designed to assist veterans who may need immediate mental health care.

Backlog decrease

The large number of veterans waiting too long for VA care was a big reason for the reforms that Congress passed last year. Since then, the VA has worked to reduce the backlog, which is defined as claims that were older than 125 days. The VA recently reported that the number of backlog cases is down 84 percent from its peak of 611,000 in March 2013. In the Puget Sound region, the number is down 92 percent. The Puget Sound VA Health Care System is one of the fastest growing in the country, and it has referred more veterans to the VA Choice program than other regions.

Many veterans still face long waits to see their doctors, so there is more work to do to connect veterans with timely care. I continue to support full funding for the VA so the department can hire the doctors, nurses and support staff needed to serve veterans successfully.

Individual Cases

Veterans who are struggling to access the federal services available to them may be able to get help from my office, including getting personnel records or ensuring the VA receives claims or appeals. Many veterans brought their individual challenges to the roundtables, and my staff will be working to assist them. So far, my staff has opened more than 20 individual cases brought to our attention at the roundtables. In 2014, my office was able to help 170 veterans with their individual circumstances.

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