Archived Story

Franken calls for better VA system

Published 10:00am Tuesday, November 12, 2013

AUSTIN — More doctors, better communication and an easier time getting medical treatment are some of the issues veterans around the state have brought up to U.S. Sen. Al Franken. Area veterans were no different, as several spoke with Franken during a stop in Austin Monday.

Franken, D-Minneapolis, was in the midst of a Veterans Day tour throughout southern Minnesota touting his latest bill to improve health care access for rural veterans. The bill, introduced by Franken and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., this summer, outlines a strategic vision for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Rural Health.

If passed, the bill would prompt VA officials to recruit more health care personnel, implement and expand telemedicine practices, and direct rural health officials to better utilize rural health grants and clinics, among other things.

Area veterans expressed concern on everything from MNsure expenses and the upcoming VA clinic to open in Albert Lea to communication between hospitals and local contracts between VA clinics and smaller healthcare providers.

VA insurance is among the changes to health care under the Affordable Care Act, but under current rules, the VA may not foot health care bills for veterans who get treated at local hospitals if they don’t fall into a certain disability category.

“We will start to run into a problem pretty soon,” said Wayne Madsen, Mower County veterans services officer.

Madsen pointed out veterans couldn’t get as many health procedures done locally, and often had to travel to Minneapolis or other places for care, as the VA has cut down on service contracts with local hospitals.

Michael Nechanicky, a 62-year-old veteran from Owatonna, told Franken his recent trip to the doctor was full of miscommunication. Though he went to Rochester to be seen, he was sent to Minneapolis for further tests on what turned out to be a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder. Yet it took several weeks of waiting, repeated phone calls for information, and multiple tests and hospital visits before he saw results. Yet after he was diagnosed, it still took him two weeks before he was informed about potential follow-up appointments in Rochester.

“I’m glad Rochester knows it; I don’t,” Nechanicky said. “They’re not communicating with me. The problem is that I’ve had this with not just VA doctors.”

Franken acknowledged the issues and said he has heard similar stories from rural veterans throughout the state. He said the bill to prioritize better health care in rural areas is a necessity for veterans who have medical emergencies.

“We don’t want veterans to be waiting on the line for an ambulance, for health care,” Franken said. “That’s why we have the VA.”

Franken called for better mental health services in rural areas to treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.