Congressman Jeff Denham spoke with locals about veterans affairs on Monday, but he didn’t attend an event or host a public meeting — he led a telephone-townhall.
Locals from Turlock, Manteca, Modesto, and Oakdale participated in the telephone call that allowed those on the line to ask questions by pressing a button for a live chat with Denham and Chairman Jeff Miller of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs. With questions ranging from personal predicaments to concerns about the future of veterans’ health records, Denham was able to touch base with locals and discuss impending changes to the VA system.
Precipitated by a scandal in the Veterans Health Administration earlier this year that left veterans uncared for due to fraudulent practices that delayed treatment for veteran patients at hospitals, several investigations were launched in an effort to address significant failures in the system. The telephone-townhall provided Denham an opportunity to assuage Central Valley veterans’ concerns and explain that the tide is turning — especially with the signing of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.
“No more secret lists or any wait lists at all. We need to make sure our veterans have immediate access to the health care that they need and deserve,” said Denham on Monday.
As an Air Force veteran who also sits on the House Committee on Veteran Affairs, Denham is in favor of top to bottom reform of the VA administration and believes the Veterans’ Access to Care Act of 2014, which was signed into law on Aug. 7, is a step in the right direction.
“This bill increases access to care by making veterans eligible to see a private doctor if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. This will lift a huge burden on Central Valley veterans who have been driving hours to the Palo Alto facility,” said Denham.
While Denham did confirm that there are plans to eventually build a closer VA hospital in the San Joaquin County town of French Camp, in the meantime local vets must attend a clinic in Modesto or make the trip to Palo Alto to see a doctor.
“The problem with the VA is that vets are traveling great distances – I mean two to three hours – and that is what our legislation will prevent in the future,” said Miller during the telephone-townhall.
The Veterans’ Access to Care Act also suspends bonuses for senior executives, requires independent assessments of VA medical care, and gives the new Secretary of the VA additional tools to hold underperforming staff accountable. It also includes additional resources for VA staffing, medical facilities, and qualified specialists.
“This bill is merely a start on all of the necessary structural reforms that must take place within the department,” said Denham.