In the discussion about veterans healthcare, the severity of the problem really depends on who you talk to.
Some lawmakers say the secret patient lists and unreasonable wait times are unfortunate but isolated instances. But others are calling for serious reforms of the whole VA system.
While the opinions of these lawmakers are important to the future of veterans healthcare, what about someone who works with the healthcare system every day?
I spoke with Veteran Service Officer John McLean about his work with veterans in Joplin and Neosho. McLean works for the Missouri Veterans Commission to help veterans apply for medical treatment and other benefits.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.
What are some of the greatest challenges that veterans in your service area face?
Some of them don't have transportation. We have homeless veterans that come in here from time to time, and I hook them up with local charitable organizations for folks who are down on their luck one time or another.
Based on your experience, what are the problems with the current system and how do you think these problems can be fixed?
There are a lot of folks much higher up that are going to be making proposal fixes for what's going on with the VA system right now. I know that I really personally haven't had a lot of folks coming in here upset locally with how they're being treated through the system and that again, is just a local thing. We haven't heard a lot of complaints from Missouri veterans about how they are treated in the two systems, clinics and/or hospitals that I have access to.
Before the issues at the VA hospitals in Phoenix and in St. Louis, how knowledgeable was the average person about the difficulties many veterans in our country face?
You know, the only people who would have been knowledgeable would have been the veterans themselves. So yeah, it’s pretty limited. I mean, from time to time politicians pop up and say, “Well, the treatment is terrible” or “The treatment is great,” whatever they happen to be focusing on at that particular time. Unfortunately right now, this is a terrible thing that's going on.
Senators Blunt and McCaskill have recently made veteran's access to healthcare and mental healthcare especially a priority on a state level, do you think all of this awareness will have a positive effect on the veterans healthcare system?
Well I'm hoping so. Like I said before, these people put their lives on the line in many cases for us, to protect our freedoms and our liberties etc. and to have them shortchanged or shut out of benefits is just, well I think it borders on being criminal.