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County’s Veterans Service Officer Available To Assist Those Who Need Help With VA System

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief

In a recent interview, Houston County Veterans Service Officer Fred Newtz said about 2,700, or 10% of the Houston County population, veterans live in Houston County.

Earlier this month, Waymon Vest expressed dismay about an incident involving a 94-year-old WWII veteran in Houston County, a Pearl Harbor survivor.
The Courier unsuccessfully attempted to contact the veteran's wife to confirm the visitor's account of the situation. The veteran passed away last weekend.

According to Vest, the veteran recently was hospitalized at the VA Hospital in Temple. He then was scheduled for an appointment the day after his discharge, requiring another trip to Temple and transportation arrangements.

Newtz was asked about this incident, and if he receives many complaints about the VA health system.

While he did not speak about the VA hospital in Temple nor the number of complaints he receives, Newtz did say that he works closely with the VA staff at the clinic in Lufkin. (It would be a violation of the HIPPA patient confidentiality law for Newtz or the VA Hospital to discuss a specific patient.)

Newtz said any problem he has addressed with the Lufkin facility has always been corrected within 24 hours.

He further said that many people do not understand that the VA functions similarly to a private HMO or PPO insurance plan.

Patients have primary care physicians, and if they require a specialist, the primary care physician makes the referral.

Houston County veterans may go to the Palestine VA Clinic for blood work, for example, which is sent elsewhere for testing, and then after about a week when the results are back, they are scheduled for another appointment.

He noted that the VA Hospital in Houston is a hub that sees thousands of veterans each year, and that there are a number of clinics and satellites that service veterans within its territory.
Newtz frequently takes Houston County veterans to out-of-county medical appointments. If a veteran needs assistance, he or she may contact him at the Houston County Courthouse Annex on Goliad Ave. His phone number is 936-544-3255, ext. 315.

According to a recent audit by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the average wait time for an established patient to see a primary care physician is 7.60 days, while the average wait time for a new patient is 49.86 days at the VA Hospital in Temple. (The audit is based on data from May 15.)

The average wait time for a specialty care appointment for a new patient in Temple (Those who have not been seen there in the previous 24 months) is 54.25 days and the average wait time for an established patient is 5.46 days.

For a new patient (one who has not been seen before in Temple in the previous 24 months), the average wait time for a mental health appointment is 35.89 days; for an established patient the wait is 2.97 days.

The audit also showed Temple had 458 appointments were scheduled between 91-120 days of the reference date (i.e.; create date for new patients and desired date for established patients) and 146 appointments were scheduled beyond 120 days. Three patients had been on the Electronic Wait List for Temple more than 120 days, according to the VHA audit.
By comparison, the VA Hospital in Houston had 103 appointments scheduled between 91-120 days and 110 appointments scheduled beyond 120 days. None had been on the Electronic Wait List for more than 120 days, according to the audit.

With its release of the audit results, the Veterans Administration stated that it already has begun contacting and scheduling all veterans who are waiting for care in VA clinics or arranging for veterans' access.

On Tuesday, June 10, at the American Medical Association (AMA) annual conference, Texas and Florida physicians urged immediate governmental action to enable American veterans to access health care they need outside of the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs system.

AMA's governing body passed the proposal.

According to a press release issued by the Texas Medical Association (TMA), "The resolution calls for "the President of the United States (to) take immediate action to provide timely access to health care for eligible veterans utilizing the health care sector outside the Veterans Administration" until (the) VA can provide health care in a timely fashion. The physicians also called for Congress to pass a bipartisan, long-term solution to ensure veterans can receive timely health care.

The AMA house also voted to "encourage all physicians to participate, when needed, in the health care of veterans."

"Our veterans have stepped up and served our country, so physicians want to be able to step in and serve them," said Austin I. King, MD, TMA's president. "It is tragic that our veterans have been forced to wait for the health care they need and deserve, so Texas physicians and our colleagues across the nation want to help care for them until the VA can right the ship."