More than 100 patients remain on a waiting list to receive care at the local Washington Veterans Affairs clinic.
There are about 1,000 veterans assigned to medical providers at the Washington clinic, and about 130 are on a waiting list, according to VA spokeswoman Marcena Gunter.
However, Gunter said the veterans on the waiting list could go to the VA hospitals at John Cochran or Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis to get immediate care. The waiting list for the Washington Clinic is just for those veterans who want to get care locally, she said.
Two Medical Providers
The Washington Clinic has two medical providers on staff, but one, a physician’s assistant, is currently assigned to active duty and will not return until December.
The other provider, who is a medical doctor, is working to clear the waiting list, and about 75 veterans have been taken off the list so far, according to Gunter.
In addition to getting patients off the waiting list, the doctor currently on staff is tending to the needs of the patients previously seen by the deployed physician’s assistant.
“Once the provider returns from active duty, we will be able to take care of all medical issues and have no wait lists for medical care at that location,” Gunter stated in her response to The Missourian’s submitted questions.
The wait list is due to difficulties the VA faced in recruiting a doctor here, Gunter said. But the new doctor has now been on duty since May.
Free Ride Service
The Washington VA clinic recently started a free transportation service that gives veterans rides to VA hospitals in St. Louis.
“The route’s been active for three months now, and the drivers are doing a fantastic job,” Gunter stated.
The six drivers have transported 18 veterans so far, and Gunter expects the number to grow.
“I have at least two more drivers in the volunteer orientation process, which will help,” Gunter added.
The biggest hurdle is getting the word out to veterans that the service is in place, she said. Veterans who want a ride should call, (314) 478-3144.
Disability Claims Backlog
Michael Pate, Franklin County’s veterans assistance coordinator, said he thinks progress is being made on clearing a backlog of disability compensation claims.
Pate said he and State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, recently met with the St. Louis Veterans Benefits Association where the claims are paid and processed.
Pate said he was impressed with the efforts taking place to eliminate the backlog of disability compensation claims.
“It was really an eye-opening experience,” Pate said. “They are dead serious about getting this thing done.”
Pate said he plans on going through the training to become a veterans service officer to help returning soldiers complete paperwork for claims processing.
The biggest hurdle is getting veterans’ claims pre-developed, so when they are submitted all that needs to happen is for them to be processed, Pate said.
“That’s where the big hang-up’s been,” Pate said.
The Washington clinic provides physical exams and medical treatment but does not perform disability exams to determine if a veteran is eligible for compensation or pension benefits.
The disability exams are conducted at the VA in St. Louis, and the VA Regional Office is the arm that determines what level of compensation a veteran should get.
Gunter said there is a push to complete exams to determine if veterans are eligible for disability benefits.
The VA announced in June that more than 65,000 claims — 97 percent of claims over two years old — have been eliminated from the backlog.
A new online application enables compensation claims to be processed faster, according to the VA.
Posttraumatic stress disorder is a major problem for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Pate said, adding that Vietnam veterans even have problems with it.
The community needs to be aware of the burden these soldiers carry when they come home, Pate said.
The Washington Clinic only sees a small number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, Gunter said. The VA St. Louis Health Care System offers specialty service for those veterans.