Claire McCaskill Visits Poplar Bluff VA Hospital

Aug 27, 2014

Poplar Bluff, Mo. – When the nation’s Veterans Affairs Health system came under fire because of a scandal that grew out of a Phoenix, Az., VA Hospital, U.S. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill stepped to the forefront immediately to work to improve healthcare for U.S. Veterans. The scandal arose because veterans were not getting treatment soon enough, and because fraudulent records were being used to keep track of how long it was taking veterans to get the help they needed.

McCaskill visited the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff on Tuesday to announce that the Poplar Bluff facility is being added to a survey system to keep track of how VA Centers are performing in the eyes of the patients they serve.

McCaskill explained this survey system has already been implemented at several other Missouri VA Centers, including the John Cochran center in St. Louis, where it was first used in Missouri. From there it was expanded to Columbia and Kansas City.

These surveys are another way of making sure veterans receive the top-notch medical care they need and for which they are entitled.

“A promise you make to a veteran is a promise you must morally keep,” said McCaskill, addressing both reporters and veterans.

Robert Wake is himself a veteran who has founded the Wake Foundation for helping wounded veterans. His foundation seeks to help veterans' rehabilitation  through outdoor programs and events.

Robert Wake is himself a veteran who founded the Wake Foundation for helping wounded veterans. His foundation seeks to help veterans’ rehabilitation through outdoor programs and events.

She said the survey program has been very helpful, and helps to point out areas where more work is needed to establish even better medical help for veterans.

She said already about 120,000 veterans in Missouri have taken the survey, and in general veterans are giving their healthcare system high marks.

“Our Columbia survey indicated that about 90 percent of the veterans who used that facility were very pleased with their care,” said McCaskill. She said in Kansas City, the rate was about 80 percent positive.

She said still, the number one complaint voiced is the amount of time it takes veterans to get their doctors’ appointments. But that is improving, she asserted.

“I have to say, veterans all over the state have thanked me for this survey. More than anything, veterans want to be heard,” said the senator.

The Missouri Senator explained that her father was a World War II veteran, and that her parents had raised her to show tremendous respect for veterans.

“I am proud to say that I am on the front lines of improving care for veterans,” said McCaskill.

She notes that funding for veterans is one of the few areas of the nation’s budget that have not seen budget cuts. “Actually, we just passed record funding for veterans,” she added.

Though all healthcare issues are important, McCaskill said the health care for veterans should always be the “gold standard” for American healthcare.

She added this is a topic which will require a constant watch.

“My biggest fear is that once the spotlight is not on veterans’ care, the quality of the care could again slip.

She explained, however, that the veterans healthcare system really does not have problems that all of healthcare doesn’t share.

“Private hospitals have all the same problems,” she explained. “They just do not have the transparency that the veterans health care system requires.”

McCaskill said that in a year, we should be able to analyze the surveys from the Poplar Bluff VA Center. She expects to see high rates of approval.

When asked how a veterans’ hospital benefits an entire community, not just veterans, McCaskill pointed to issues like employment.

“I understand this facility’s employment is made up by about 35 percent veterans, but many of those employees also come from Poplar Bluff and the surrounding area,” she said.

Another example of how the facility serves the community at large is the facility itself. It recently acquired a mobile generator that is on hand not just as a hospital emergency back-up, but because it is mobile, it could be taken to any community in the area that suffers a natural disaster or some other situation in which emergency power is needed.

McCaskill is also pictured with veteran Bill Booth, who served in Vietnam. Joining him are his two daughters, Dara, 3; and Zoe, 9. He was also accompanied to the event by his wife, Kristi.

McCaskill pictured with veteran Bill Booth, who served in Vietnam. Joining them are his two daughters, Dara, 3; and Zoe, 9. He was also accompanied to the event by his wife, Kristi.

Though the idea of privatization of the veterans healthcare system has come up, McCaskill said most veterans want to keep their own healthcare system. That system will continually improve, with over $13 billion being put into the system to acquire more doctors and more specialists, as well as more nurses and nurse practitioners to help veterans receive care more swiftly and efficiently.

A good example of taking health care to veterans, said McCaskill is the Veterans Community Based Clinic in Cape Girardeau. She said that facility by 2016 will go from 8,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. She said it is important to make health care convenient for veterans living in Missouri’s rural areas.

“We know a lot of our veterans do not want to travel to St. Louis for help, so we are trying to make it more convenient by bringing help closer to them,” explained the senator.

She admitted rural areas frequently have a problem of attracting doctors, and that the veterans system is constantly working on addressing that issue. She noted that is one reason Tele-Medicine is becoming a popular vehicle for outreach.

“It enables us to get more expertise to the people who need it,” she said.