New bill aims to get veterans better health care access using survey

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Congressman Tom Rice introduced a bill to survey veterans on their health care experiences through the Department of Veterans Affairs and through non-VA providers.

“Our goal with the survey is to give our veterans an opportunity to tell us how they feel like they are treated, if they feel like it is adequate and what their specific concerns are,” said Congressman Rice. The ultimate goal is to use the information to provide veterans with better care no matter where they go.

The survey would come from an independent organization and would ask veterans about their experience scheduling appointments, cost of care, wait times and overall quality of care received.

“We get calls every week, multiple calls every week, with our veterans who are struggling to get what they’re simply entitled to which is simply the best care we can offer to them for them providing that service to our country,” added Congressman Rice.

The Survey Our Servicemembers Act is based on a local survey Congressman Rice’s office put together in South Carolina. The results show 82% of veterans received care at a non-VA facility in the last two years, over 65% indicated that it takes fewer days to be seen at non-VA facilities and a majority of veterans indicated that out-of-pocket costs of services are less at VA facilities.

“We’ve seen a number of scandals come out of the VA,” said Congressman Rice. “People have died in South Carolina as a result of that. So we’ve been delving into this issue a little bit trying to figure out how we can better serve our veterans for who we owe our highest debt of gratitude.”

Congressman Rice said he’s spoken with veterans and families of veterans who have died waiting for care.

“I think that is a tragedy and it happens with alarming frequency in our VA and we can do better than that,” he added.

News13 spoke with several local veterans about their health care experiences and where they get a majority of their care.

Larry Dean did two tours in Vietnam in the U.S. Marine Corps and often uses the Myrtle Beach VA.

“It’s been good,” said Dean. “I haven’t had a bad experience in the VA. I’ve heard others say they have but for me the system’s been working very well.”

John Hennigar was a U.S. Air Force weapons mechanic in Vietnam in 1970 said he usually only goes to the VA once a year.

“It’s more convenient to go to a private doctor,” said Hennigar. “Rather than driving 85 miles to Charleston.”

George Bontya was in the U.S. Air Force and also went to Vietnam in 1970. He uses the VA but said his biggest concern comes from the doctor turnover rate.

“I’m in that situation right now,” said Bontya. “I”m on my fourth doctor over there and I called to see who I’m going to be seeing next and my answer was: ‘We don’t know.'”

Congressman Rice hopes this bill will lead to more accountability and better care for those who served our country.

A press release from Congressman Rice’s office detailed the results of the local survey. Key findings include:

  • Obtaining Health Care
    • 82 percent of veterans received care at a non-VA facility in the last two years.
    • The four VA centers where respondents were most likely to seek or receive care were Dorn VA Medical Center, Ralph Johnson VA Medical Center, Myrtle Beach VA Outpatient Clinic, and Florence VA Outpatient Clinic.
    • More than 70% of respondents rated travel time to a health care facility as either extremely important or very important, and nearly 74% indicated it took less time to travel to a non-VA facility.
  • Scheduling Appointments
    • More than 25% of respondents had to contact the VA facility between two and five times to schedule their appointment. However, the majority of respondents had to contact the VA facility only once to schedule their appointment.
    • Roughly 13% to 18% of those who tried making an appointment at a VA medical center were unable to schedule one, depending on the facility.
    • About 30% of veterans indicated that they have delayed seeking care because of difficulty obtaining an appointment.
    • While about 13% to 31% of veterans were able to be seen within a week of making an appointment, 26% to 46% faced wait times of longer than a month, depending on the facility.
    • Over 65% indicated that it takes fewer days to be seen at non-VA facilities.
  • Quality of Care
    • A plurality of veterans rated the care they received at non-VA facilities as “somewhat better” or “much better” than VA care.
    • The quality of health care services and communication with providers ranked as the most important factors for veterans when it comes to health care. Veterans reported that non-VA facilities were better in both of these categories.
  • Cost of Care
    • A majority of veterans indicated that out-of-pocket costs of services are less at VA facilities.