Three members of Congress shared their thoughts about NBC 7’s Listen to Our Veterans Project. The two month project allowed veterans to share their experiences about programs and services for veterans.
More than a thousand veterans responded.
Veterans told NBC 7 that the most important benefit they receive is medical care. About half said the care was good and the other half said it was not so good. More than 70 percent stated that wait times were still a problem, despite the work Congress has done to free up funding for veterans to go outside VA medical centers.
You can read the full results here.
Congressman Darrell Issa, of the 49th Congressional District served 15 years in the Army and says he would like to see the VA concentrate on combat related injuries including post-traumatic stress.
“We need to put our emphasis is special skills necessary to take care of the injuries that are most unique to military service,” Issa said.
He said he wants to see care outsourced to community providers for non-service related medical issues to address those long waits.
“My hope is the VA will not do more in the future, it will do less, but do it better,” he added.
When it comes to mental health, 52nd Congressional District representative Scott Peters has authored a bill “that would allow people with operated and classified situations overseas they can't come to group therapy right because they can't talk about what they did so we have to give them special treatment as well there's a whole suite of challenges.”
The Congressman has also tried to open up licensing, so that people who are licensed in California can use that license to be hired by the VA to provide more resources to the VA.
Congresswoman Susan Davis, of the 53rd Congressional District, says mental health care is a priority for her as well. She wants to be sure veterans who are struggling with suicidal thoughts be seen right away.
“There has to be a very strong message to the men and women who served our country and sacrifice for us, that no more sacrifices, we're finding a place for you immediately and I think we have to respond to that," she said.
But a problem that Davis and Peters are well aware of is the lack of people working in the mental health field.
“We don't have enough providers in the community itself, so getting more nurses, getting more psychologist, psychiatrist, and social workers available is a real need,” Davis said.
Members of Congress, including Darrell Issa and John McCain would like to see aging veterans use programs like medi-care funded though the VA to deal with medical issues that are non-service related. Congressman Scott Peters also wants to see a variety of solutions to make the VA more responsive to veterans.
“Medi-care is one way that you can diversify out of the VA which is an inherent kind of also a choice right,” he said.
He also says giving the VA flexibility to provide care for mental health is also key.
“I did a bill that would allow people with operated and classified situations overseas they can't come to group therapy right because they can't talk about what they did so we have to give them special treatment as well there's a whole suite of challenges," he added.
Congresswoman Susan Davis -- the daughter of a World War II veteran and a member of the House Armed Services Committee wants veterans to have a choice, but says many don't want to go outside the VA system.
“They see people that they know, it's familiar and all of us want that and I think that we've done a good job especially here in San Diego with trying to create a good very supportive environment,” she said.
Davis says the American people owe veterans the benefits they have earned and that means funding the VA adequately. She says some members of Congress are getting in the way of the process to fund the VA by adding legislation to the VA bill which has kept it from passing.
“If we were to pass the VA bill the way we would like we would see in 9 percent increase in the money is diverted to a whole host and a range of services," she told NBC 7.
Issa says funding is not the issue, it's fixing a broken bureaucracy.
“From the standpoint of the actual backlog there's no excuse Congress is given the money and the VA has the authority to outsource wherever they're veteran is for the care they need.”
As for the Choice Program, the program that was put into place quickly after being funded by Congress to reduce wait times and get veterans care more quickly, a large number of veterans said in the Listen to Our Veterans Project that it isn’t working.
That is no surprise to these three members of Congress who have heard from veterans at their office.
“The folks we've talked to in our office have the same experience, which is, choice is a good concept but it's not implemented right, “ Peters said.
“We know that Congress demands checks and balances and that's appropriate, but it may be that we have not streamlined that process as well as we should,” Davis said, adding that the government should cut the red tape.
Issa says this is just another example of the bureaucracy getting in the way of a program.
“There's money in this program. It is a program where you can't blame the eventual doctor and you can't blame the other parts of the Veterans Administration," he said. "What you can blame if you will the unnamed bureaucrats and software people who can't seem to get it right.”
The VA says they are working to build new software to improve Veteran’s Choice.
For the most part veterans thought that the quality of medical care at the VA is very good. And the members of Congress we spoke to agree.
One complaint that veterans have about the care however, can be fixed with any cost to the taxpayer. And it is one all of these representatives feel should be implemented right away and that is that employees that serve veterans improve their attitude.
“That would be easy to change and it doesn't take an act of Congress," Peters said.
NBC 7 reached out to Representatives Darrell Issa, Susan Davis, Scott Peters, Duncan Hunter, and Juan Vargas for interviews on Listen To Our Veterans.
Representatives Darrell Issa, Susan Davis, and Scott Peters met with us for interviews.
Congressman Juan Vargas, of the 51st Congressional District sent us the following statement:
“Veterans continue to be a top priority for me and my office. I believe that it is very important to listen to our veterans and be receptive to their concerns and their needs in order to ensure that they receive adequate access to the medical care and services they deserve. It’s essential to shed light on the experiences our veterans are facing. We must continue to work closely with our veteran communities and organizations to alleviate the burdens our veterans face.”
Congressman Duncan Hunter, 50th District ,was unable to meet with us.
The members of Congress we spoke with encouraged any veteran who needs help with veteran benefits to contact them at the links below:
Congresswoman Susan Davis, 53rd Congressional District
Congressman Scott Peters, 52nd Congressional District
Congressman Darrell Issa, 49th Congressional District