Veterans complain about VA services |

Veterans complain about VA services

Steve Ranson |

Congressman Mark Amodei listens to a veteran's concerns at a town hall meeting on Monday.

Congressman Mark Amodei conducted a town hall meeting in Fallon for veterans on Monday and vowed to have representatives for Tricare come to Nevada to speak about future coverage plans and premiums.

This was the second town hall meeting conducted in Fallon and 17th in Congressional District 2 since the Republican lawmaker was elected in 2011.

“Tricare was OK until this administration came in for the last eight years,” Amodei told about 40 veterans who attended the two-hour session at the Fallon City Council chambers.

Tricare is the Department of Defense’s military health system program.

A spouse of a serviceman chimed in, saying Tricare premiums have more than doubled during the last 20 years. A retired veteran said when he enlisted, a retiree could receive insurance for life for both him and his family.

“Now, they want me to cut out the family,” he said.

Amodei said it appears when the cost of living allowance goes up, so does the Tricare premium. The congressman said Congress approved more money for the Department of Defense late last year, but he said DOD must take care of its people.

“It’s time for radical surgery,” Amodei said about the military health insurance program.” I don’t think they (DoD) wants to be in the insurance business.”

One veteran told of a horror story when he sought medical help through the Veterans Affairs Heath Care System. After he left the service in 2013, William Doyle said it took him a year to see a doctor and a year to get an evaluation.

Because of a coding error on the VA’s part, Doyle said he wont’ know until 2017 of his status.

Amodei said the system is to blame for the delays although many people who work for the agency are veterans.

“I try to avoid saying too much against the vets who may be helping,” Amodei said, “but access to medical care in Nevada is horrible.”

Amodei also said mid-level managers seemed to be “retired in place” because they don’t deal with the public or answer the phone to hear concerns or complaints.

Mike Mader, a veterans service officer in Fallon for the Nevada Department of Veterans Services, said something needs to be done now.

“Let’s fix what we have and then move forward with new programs,” he said.

While many in attendance were upset with the VA and its policies, they praised the efforts of Mader and the NDVS because of their proactive assistance.

Retired Army veteran Gary Utterbach of Fallon also worked for the VA as a rater who handled claims. Utterbach, whose last rour was in Panama, explained the process and said raters are under pressure to process claims and benefits quickly.

Another purpose for the town hall was to introduce people who serve in key roles to assist veterans with questions or claims.

Lisa Howard, director of the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System, said services keep growing in Nevada and that the VA hospital in Reno will undergo renovation and add a parking garage.

She immediately heard from veterans who had concerns ranging from records to communication.

Jerome Chandler asked Howard why it takes so long to obtain a release of information. Howard said the VA in Reno has experienced a shortage of personnel and turnover but she said during the past two months, staff has eliminated much of the backlog.

A spouse said her husband has seen different specialists and been in the hospital 13 times during the past two years, but it appears no information has been passed down through his records. The woman said she became upset with a nurse who seemed rushed.

She told me she didn’t have time to read everything in my husband’s chart.

Marian Davis, veteran experience manager (outreach manager) for the VA in Reno, strongly encouraged attendees if they have questions or concerns, call her and she will find the right people to help them, a request also echoed by Mader.