Vets claim VA reneging on travel reimbursement

Hudson: Protecting vets our ‘most sacred obligation,’ calls on Shinseki to resign

By Kevin Spradlin

ROCKINGHAM — U.S. Representative Richard Hudson told a veteran-friendly crowd on Saturday at the Memorial Day weekend ceremony at Richmond County Veterans Memorial Park that he considers keeping promises made to veterans “my most sacred obligation.”

Kevin Spradlin | U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson addresses the crowd on Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend ceremony at Richmond County Veterans Memorial Park.

Kevin Spradlin |
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson addresses the crowd on Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend ceremony at Richmond County Veterans Memorial Park.

Hudson has a lot of work to do if he’s to come through on that pledge.

Along with a reported backlog of claims waiting more than 125 days to be processed reaching more than 600,000 cases 14 months ago, according to a report by veterans service organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a Richmond County veteran claims that the Department of Veterans Affairs has all but eliminated mileage reimbursement for veterans going to medical appointments as prescribed by the VA.

Carlton Hawkins, of American Legion Post 147, told that a Rockingham veteran going to an appointment at the Fayetteville medical clinic — a roundtrip of approximately 132 miles — used to be reimbursed 40.5 cents per mile for the entire trip, or roughly $52.80.

Now, however, the VA is reimbursing mileage only to the nearest VA clinic, regardless of where the medical appointment is. That means that same Rockingham veteran going to a VA appointment in Fayetteville would be reimbursed only the distance of driving to the Hamlet clinic — roughly 12 miles roundtrip, or roughly $4.80.

“I am assigned to the clinic in the Fayetteville hospital,” Hawkins said. “I’ve been there since before the Hamlet clinic opened.”

The change, he said, “doesn’t feel right” and the difference in reimbursement is “a tank of gas.”

Kevin Spradlin | Carlton Hawkins, American Legion Post 147

Kevin Spradlin |
Carlton Hawkins, American Legion Post 147

The VA, Hawkins said, is asking that veterans and veterans service organizes to approve the change quietly by going along but veterans “are not okay with this.”

Only certain veterans are eligible for reimbursement. According to VA policy, a veteran must have a service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or more, traveling for treatment of a service-connected condition or receive a VA pension. There are also income-related guidelines to eligibility.

Hawkins said he’s in a secure financial position to drive his pick-up truck to Fayetteville as needed, but other veterans who live on a fixed income might not be so fortunate. There’s a concern that some veterans will choose not to make those appointments and forego medical care they need.

Tonia Goins Hildreth, veterans service officer for Richmond County, was asked if the new policy — first announced in March 2013 — is fair or just.

“No,” Hildreth said. “Somebody needs to shake the doors of the secretary of the VA, I guess.”

Hildreth said that “some of them don’t want to go over to the Hamlet clinic for different reasons.”

As it was explained to her, the VA will continue to pay the 40.5-cent rate for veterans to visit the prescribed VA clinic to see their primary care provider. But when it comes to routine procedures such as blood work, Hildreth said the VA will pay only to the nearest clinic. The problem, Hildreth said, is that veterans don’t find out about it until after the fact.

Kevin Spradlin | Tonia Goins Hildreth, Richmond County veterans service officer

Kevin Spradlin |
Tonia Goins Hildreth, Richmond County veterans service officer

Anytime a veteran has a medical appointment at a VA clinic, the VA sends that veteran a postcard to remind them of the appointment. Even for procedures such as lab work, the postcard often will note that the appointment is for the Fayetteville location.

The postcard, Hildreth said, makes no mention that such an appointment is available at the Hamlet clinic for that specific veteran and also fails to mention the lack of reimbursement should the veteran go ahead and proceed to the Fayetteville clinic as the postcard dictates.

Hildreth echoes Hawkins’ concern that some veterans could choose not to seek medical care, though she acknowledged she doesn’t know of that happening among the 4,000 registered veterans in Richmond County.

“I have people that have said they’re almost at the point where they’re going to stop, but they haven’t,” Hildreth said.

On Saturday, Hudson said his position is clear: it’s on the side of veterans. Protecting veterans is “my most sacred obligation,” Hudson said. “It’s up to us to keep the promises made to our veterans.”

To that end, Hudson is one of the few Republicans who have called for the VA’s top official, former four-star general Eric Shinseki, to resign.

“It’s time for him to go,” Hudson said. Shinseki, he said, has “lost the confidence of all of us.”

Hudson said it’s also time to consider healthcare reform for veterans and not limit them to VA clinics.

“Maybe we need to rethink how we do veteran care,” he said. “If you want to go to a local doc and have the VA pay for it, you should.”

Hudson received a hearty applause for his words but some wondered afterward how he would deliver on keeping promises to veterans. After all, some of the administration’s top officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said the blame isn’t at Shinseki’s feet.

Shinseki told The Wall Street Journal last week that he would not resign.


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  • Patricia Davis

    This is another example of the VA making changes in policies and not educating the veterans regarding those changes. Here is another example of how the VA system is placing obstacles to obtain healthcare. I know a veteran who was unsatisfied with his primary care provider at the Hamlet clinic. He submitted the appropriate form to Fayetteville VAMC Chief of Primary Care to change his provider but still receive care at the Hamlet clinic. After a year long battle with letters to senators, congressmen and the VA, he was given the choice of receiving primary care at Pembroke Clinic or Fayetteville. Those were his choices. He chose Fayetteville Bravo Clinic….however then he learned that he would forego his travel pay unless he had an appointment in a specialty clinic. Essentially, this veteran is being punished for wanting better/appropriate care by giving up his travel pay. The VA administrator stood firm when the veteran disputed the reasoning and informed him it was his choice, the VA was not insisting or moving him out of the Hamlet clinic. The veteran is pleased with the care he has received thus far in Bravo clinic but, once again, the veteran paid the price. There are problems with receiving prescriptions, same day appointments for illness, and being scheduled within three days of discharge from a hospital for follow-up care with a primary care provider. Non-emergency complaints are given instructions to be seen at the Fayetteville ER where a veteran may wait for hours to be evaluated. Frequently, veterans are given little assistance trying to resolve a medical situation. This is not new “news”. It was the same when I was the supervisor of the clinic, frequently receiving reprimands from FVAMC when I was attempting to do the “right thing”. In part, the plight of local veterans is the reason why I remain involved, assisting them whenever I can. The current OIG investigation is yet another reason why I am planning to meet with Representative Hudson to further discuss the matter.

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