By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, January 21, US Representative Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) met with VA officials and representatives from Alabama’s health care community in an effort to build a veterans community Health Network.
Congresswoman Roby gathered leaders from Alabama’s hospital community and officials from the Veterans Health Administration to take the first steps toward building a network of community health care providers to improve services offered to Alabama veterans.
Rep. Roby said that Alabama’s medical community has been willing and eager to help the VA meet increased demand, but long-existing disconnects between the VA and outside providers have hindered collaboration. The Congresswoman said, “Today’s meeting with representatives from Alabama’s health care community and VA officials was a productive first step in improving local health care options for our veterans.”
Rep. Roby said, “Why should a veteran in Troy or Greenville or Dothan have to drive all the way to Montgomery or Tuskegee or Atlanta for a doctor’s appointment? Along the way they are going to pass half a dozen hospitals that could provide the same care. Why not allow veterans to access care closer to home if that’s what they want to do?
Allowing veterans to access care in their hometowns just makes sense, and I appreciate everyone’s willingness to come to the table so we can work through how to build a network that delivers for those who depend on the VA.”
Thursday’s two-hour roundtable meeting was made possible by the Alabama Hospital Association. The forum allowed for stakeholders to address the various challenges in making health care delivery systems work cohesively. Attendees of the meeting included: leaders from the Alabama Hospital Association; CEOs from hospitals throughout Central and South Alabama; VA officials at the national, regional and local level; Private practice administrators from throughout the district; as well as a representative from Health Net, a company specializing in connecting veteran patients with outside health care providers.
Rep. Roby said that gathering all parties to the table to work through the various challenges proved productive. Roby supports more local, non-VA care options for veteran patients, arguing that by contracting services with the existing network of hospitals the VA could allow veterans to access care closer to home.
Roby said, “I’m really optimistic that by working together we can build a Community Veterans Health Network that improves services in a big way for Alabama veterans. I see this hybrid system as the future of VA healthcare, and why not start it here? Wouldn’t it be something if here, in Central Alabama, where we were home to the worst wait times in the country, we build something that became a model for the rest of the country? Wouldn’t it be something if, one day, instead of looking at Alabama as the example for how things go wrong, the rest of the country looked here as a model for how to improve services for veterans?”
Roby concluded, “We have a long way to go, but I’m optimistic.”
VA wait times have been a problem for years. Congress instituted a bonus system where administrators would get paid bonuses for shortening the wait. At some point, VA administrators began keeping a separate set of books where veterans were kept off the books so the administrators could collect the bonuses. The scheme was uncovered in Arizona. Investigators quickly learned that it was a nationwide scandal. CAVHCS was exposed as one of the worst VA systems in the country.
Last year, Rep. Roby worked with whistleblowers and news outlets to expose major instances of mismanagement, malfeasance and cover-up inside CAVHCS. The then-director, James Talton, became the first VA manager fired under a new accountability law passed by Congress. In one of the more outrageous example of VA incompetence, one employee was caught transporting a patient to buy drugs and prostitute services and the employee was kept on the payroll. Improving access to care however has been slow. A permanent director for CAVHCS still has not been named, even though the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the VA Undersecretary for Health, and VA Southeast Network Director have all been replaced.
According to the VA Inspector General more than 4,000 veteran patients reportedly have waited longer than 90 days without receiving an initial appointment after contacting CAVHCS requesting services.
Some critics of the VA’s troubled Health Care System argue that the socialist model of government owned hospitals, managed by government bureaucrats, staffed by government employed doctors is intrinsically flawed and is not capable of meeting the needs of veterans and that a more free market approach is needed where the government honors its commitments to veterans but the veterans can get care from the providers of their choice, similar to Medicare or health insurance.
Roby recently met with newly installed Southeast Network Director Leslie Wiggins to discuss the way forward in improving access to care for veterans in Central Alabama, including by utilizing outside providers.
Representative Roby serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, which has oversight over VA spending.
Congresswoman Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She is seeking just her fourth term in the United States House of Representatives; but faces opposition in the March 1 Republican Primary from Becky Gerritson and Robert “Bob” Rogers.