A $17.6 billion VA fix through the eyes of a FL Afghan war vet


By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Charlie Adams is an Afghanistan veteran who’s thankful he has private insurance.

CHANGE?: Charlie Adams, right, chooses to use his private insurance through his job rather than receive medical treatment from the VA.

The U.S. Marine Corps vet, 34, married with two young children, told Watchdog.org that he would choose a private hospital over a Veterans Affairs health care facility, if a serious medical issue should arise.

“It’s an absolute bureaucracy,” he said of the VA system.

Now, elected officials and the department’s top brass are doubling-down on change.

Adams isn’t moved.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs has before it perhaps its greatest opportunity to enhance care for veterans in its history,” Acting VA Secretary Sloan D. Gibson said Tuesday at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in St. Louis.

Gibson said the system is “in the midst of its most serious crisis in a generation.” He proposed a step-by-step plan to fix it and pledged accountability.

But whether the plan, which includes a proposed $17.6 billion cash infusion, will fundamentally change the way the VA system works is anybody’s guess. U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the administration’s $17.6 billion figure “seems to have magically fallen out of the sky.”

Adams, like many other servicemen and woman, has had enough of the political infighting and unfulfilled promises.

“This should’ve changed a long time ago,” he said. “None of this is new.”

Four years ago Adams filed a claim with the VA for back surgery but was denied. “I didn’t properly document it while I was in the service,” he said. He was offered pain medication instead. Adams eventually had the needed surgery, thanks to his private insurance coverage.

After returning from his overseas deployment, Adams suffered from breathing problems. The Tallahassee resident was told he should drive to the Gainesville VA, 150 miles southeast, stay in a hotel and wear a sleep monitor.

“It’s free, but it didn’t make sense,” he said. “Why would I go there and do that when I can just go to my regular doctor.”

SLOAN B. GIBSON, acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville is one of the more troubled VA facilities,

The Washington Free Beacon reported last week the central Florida medical center logged 31 “adverse events” in 2013, the most of any VA hospital. An adverse event happens when a patient is seriously injured or dies as a direct result of the care they received.

A USAToday investigation found the facility had the longest wait times for new patients of any VA medical center in Florida, 48 days. New patients are supposed to be seen within 14 days.

Watchdog.org previously reported that state health inspectors were twice rebuffed from assessing the Gainesville VA’s quality controls after the state Agency for Health Care Administration learned of “a secret waiting list.”

Watchdog.org contacted U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., multiple times for comment when the WFB story broke but did not receive a return response. Questions relating to what’s being done to improve the medical center went unanswered. The Gainesville VA is in Yoho’s district.

One of Gibson’s proposed solutions involves expanding private-sector partnerships to deal with more than 160,000 vets now on waiting lists. Paying for private health care appears to be a significant feature of the proposed reforms.

“Veterans still wait too long for decisions and our quality is not up to standard,” Gibson said Tuesday.

Adams told Watchdog.org his problems are minuscule compared to those of other veterans and said maybe a new 31-acre, $55-million Tallahassee outpatient clinic will deliver results. The project is scheduled for completion in 2016.

“It could help,” he said. “But if they can’t take care of promises already made to veterans, what else are they not taking care of.”