MORRIS – When asked about his Veteran’s Affairs health benefits, local veteran Bob Messel had this to say – “It’s probably the best care I’ve had in my entire life.”
Messel’s answer may come as surprising, considering the scathing reports recently released regarding the VA’s lacking quality of care, disorganization and bloated waiting lists at some of its facilities.
The reports and accusations leveled at VA prompted U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, to meet Friday with Messel and five other local veterans in Morris to discuss their feelings about the VA health system.
“I like doing these meetings to hear from people on the ground and get a sense of their experiences,” Kinzinger said during the roundtable discussion, one of several the congressman hosted Friday.
The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs is facing national scrutiny following allegations that veterans are stuck waiting years for their benefits. A report by the Center for Investigative Reporting – which included leaked documents from an internal VA source – found that about 250,000 veterans have been waiting a year or longer to receive their VA benefits.
That’s almost a 2,000 percent increase from 2009, when only 11,000 veterans were on the VA’s waiting list.
The report also showed the VA is taking as long as 800 days to process claims and failing to reschedule appointments.
Despite the data, Kinzinger said he heard positive reports during his roundtable discussions about the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, which he said seems to operate better than other facilities throughout the country.
“I’ve heard overwhelming positive things about Hines,” he said.
Grundy County Veteran’s Assistance Commission Superintendent Ken Buck said he’s had problems with the VA’s benefit eligibility criteria, which is not always easy to navigate.
“It’s sort of a hodgepodge of different standards and criteria,” Buck said. “There’s no one, two, three clear-cut checklist to determine if you’re eligible.”
Most of the veterans in Friday’s group were pleased with their care, save for minor problems with delayed service.
To those veterans encountering issues, Kinzinger introduced his district caseworker, Casey Gorham, who works to alleviate problems for veterans not getting the care they need.
“The VA responds very well to our office,” Gorham said.
Kinzinger encouraged the veterans to call his office at 815-431-927 when the VA delays their appointments or won’t issue medications so Gorham can expedite the process.
“Spread the word about that,” he said. “I would say about 80 to 85 percent of veterans in the area aren’t aware that we are a resource.”