A few dozen veterans gathered at the VA Pittsburgh Hospital in Oakland Friday to discuss any and all concerns they may have about the system.
“It’s a really wide variety of subjects that come up,” said VA Pittsburgh spokesman Mike Marcus, “anything from changes to benefits, healthcare – different pieces that come up around that – as well as questions that come up around some of the controversies that have plagued the VA over the last year or so.”
Those include long wait times at some facilities in the U.S. and the Legionnaire’s outbreak that happened in 2011. That year 21 VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System patients contracted Legionnaire’s from Legionella bacteria in the water, and five died. Indeed, before the town hall began, a couple of veterans were discussing the Legionella threat, but said they weren’t concerned about a recurrence.
As far as wait times go, some changes have come in Pittsburgh.
“We’ve actually made an improvement, we’ve shortened the wait time for specialty care patients, the average wait time, by about an eight-day drop,” said David Macpherson, chief medical officer of VA Pittsburgh. “Now it’s running about 12 days, so we’ve made some progress but I think we still have more to go in that area.”
MacPherson said wait times have also decreased for primary care visits for veterans. A representative from the Veteran Benefits Administration also attended the town hall and said the time it takes to file claims is decreasing, though added there is still a backlog officials are trying to get through.
Veterans mostly asked questions and voiced concerns about personal situations they’ve encountered while navigating the VA health system in Pittsburgh and beyond. The town hall is held quarterly and similar meetings are held nationwide by veteran healthcare systems.