Hoeven Holds Forum on Veterans Health Care, Gets Briefing on Fargo VA System Report

Senator Working to Help Veterans Get Health Care Services Closer to Home, Reduce Scheduling Delays

FARGO, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today held a forum in Fargo to review the results of a recent evaluation of the Fargo Veterans Medical Center. The event featured a presentation by Veterans Affairs Health Care System Director Lavonne Liversage on a recent evaluation of the facility’s electronic wait list and wait times. Today’s event was widely attended by regional veterans’ organizations, county service officers from across North Dakota and state veterans officials.

The senator said four areas of concern for veterans seeking health care services need to be addressed. Hoeven said we need to ensure that:

• Veterans are getting health care services in a timely manner

• Veterans in North Dakota can access health care services more conveniently in their local communities rather than having to travel a long distance to the VA Medical Center in Fargo

• Veterans nationally can see health care providers in their local community to reduce wait times and make it more convenient for them

• The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department completes a provider agreement allowing veterans to access local long-term care facilities

Hoeven has expressed his deep concerns about serious problems that have emerged recently at the Veterans Affairs Administration, which is why he scheduled today’s meeting. Last week, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs directed the leadership of the Veterans Health Administration to conduct a nationwide review of processes in place to ensure timely scheduling of medical appointments at the agency’s health care facilities.

Hoeven has worked on the Appropriations Committee to increase funding for the Veterans Affairs Administration. Over the past five years, Congress has significantly increased funding for the VA by 60 percent, and has met all of the VA’s appropriations requests.

The senator is working on the Appropriations Committee’s Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee to include programs like Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) in the new Fiscal Year 2015 Veterans Affairs appropriations bill. The measure makes $35 million available to provide contract-based care for veterans in rural and highly rural areas who lack close access to VA facilities. In addition, the committee has approved funding to:

• Improve Claims Processing: An additional $30 million for claims processing to address the VA health care claims backlog.

• Investigate Scheduling Delays: An additional $5 million for the VA inspector general to investigate scheduling delays.

• Address Rural Health Care: $250 million to fully fund the Office of Rural Health.

• Enhance PTSD Treatment: An additional $3 million for the National Centers for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“While we are pleased that the preliminary report finds that North Dakota veterans aren’t experiencing the kinds of long waits that many veterans in other parts of the country are, there are clearly problems with VA hospitals elsewhere that need to be fixed,” Hoeven said. “Here in North Dakota, we also need to fully address the problem of our veterans having to make the long trek to Fargo to get services that are readily available in their communities. This is a particularly troubling situation for veterans in western North Dakota, who face an 800 mile roundtrip journey to Fargo in all weather for fairly routine treatments.”

Hoeven has also worked to get approval for the new Devils Lake Veterans Telehealth Clinic, which after a 10-year effort is now finally underway at Mercy Hospital. He has pushed the VA since he was a governor to fund and operate a clinic to serve veterans in the region. Devils Lake is two and a half hours from the Fargo VA. In September of last year, Mercy Hospital was awarded the contract to house the new facility.

Last month, Hoeven hosted a roundtable in Williston to discuss the Fargo VA Health Care System’s (HCS) plans to allow veterans to secure more health care services in western North Dakota rather than making the long drive to the Fargo VA facility. Currently, the VA offers services in the western part of the state through local outpatient community clinics in Williston, Minot, Dickinson and soon at Devils Lake. However, veterans are compelled to make the long drive to the Fargo VA facility for some services that are not offered by the VA clinics, which is why Hoeven is pushing the VA to allow veterans to access services from local health care providers.