By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican
As far as a couple of local veterans are concerned, there isn’t a problem with Veterans Administration (VA) services in Nebraska.
But, the “wait times” some U.S. veterans have had to put up with at VA facilities in other states is not a big surprise to them either.
“In our circles, we’ve known about this a long time,” said Duane Todd of Imperial, a Vietnam veteran who serves as the Chase County Veterans Service Officer.
He chuckles a bit when hearing about the pay bonuses some VA employees were getting after reportedly hiding the real wait times some veterans were experiencing on alleged “secret lists.”
Todd said the wait times in VA facilities in Arizona, Texas and California have come up in discussions at many of the meetings he attends for his position as Veterans Service Officer, and not just recently.
Chas Browning of Imperial, a WWII veteran, said he’s never had a problem when seeking VA medical services in Nebraska, whether it was at the clinic in Grand Island or the Lincoln VA Hospital that is now closed. He also received services at the Omaha VA Hospital on occasion.
Browning used to spend the winters in Arizona between the mid-1980s until 2002, and said he experienced much of what’s being discussed now about wait times, especially in the 1990s.
“I had trouble getting in then” to see a doctor there, Browning said.
“I just gave up. I never did get any help there,” he said.
Browning said they put his name down, “but I never got in. I was told they were crowded.”
He added, “It’s nothing new. It’s been going on a long time and they never did anything about it.”
He recalls the Legion and VFW organizations getting involved years ago when veterans in Arizona started complaining of the long wait times and more. Browning is a member of both organizations and commander of Imperial’s Legion Post 92.
Browning chalks it up to poor management.
But, he also said part of the issue in Arizona may be all of the people who retire there, many of them who are veterans.
Browning reiterated he’s had no problem with VA services in Nebraska, although like Todd, he says there is a real shortage of doctors in this state, too.
Todd said he’s unsure why the issue has come up now, when it’s been going on a long time.
“Whether it’s the media finally getting it out, or the claims of some deaths, I don’t know,” he said.
He’s not sure getting Congress involved, writing new laws is the answer though.
He wonders about politics, too.
Todd says the problem with some VA services stems from lack of physician staffing, the same problem rural communities like Imperial also have.
“Private industry is having trouble filling its ranks; why wouldn’t the VA, too?” he asks.
It’s not an easy solution, he adds, because “the VA is such a big organization. There are a lot of factors involved.”
Something veterans can do to help in one small way is when they have an appointment at a VA facility and can’t make it to be sure to cancel, Todd said.
That way, the appointment spot can be opened up for someone else.
“That hurts the system, too,” Todd said.
Todd has served as Chase County’s Veterans Service Officer for nearly 12 years.
While he doesn’t have a specific number of veterans he has worked with in Chase County, he says, generally, it’s about 10 percent of the population.
Much of his work is helping veterans with paperwork and foundation work, such as where to acquire records as they apply for benefits.