Senator John Boozman is touting a $16.3 billion Veterans Affairs package signed into law this week as an important move toward resolving systemic problems uncovered in April.
Boozman met with medical center officials at Little Rock’s John L. McLellan Memorial Veterans Hospital Friday. The Republican from Rogers says he’s confident the state’s VA hospitals in Little Rock and Fayetteville are performing well and that reforms will prove beneficial.
Boozman points to one reform allowing some veterans to pursue care through private providers - outside the VA system - as something he finds particularly promising.
“I like the idea of a little bit of competition. Things do better with that. It’s something that allows us to experiment in that direction but I think the future is such that we’ll see certainly a very healthy VA but I think we’ll continue to do that down the line,” said Boozman.
The legislation also authorizes $5 billion to hire additional doctors and nurses within the Veterans Health Administration System.
Veteran Mike Waldorf, paralyzed since 1990, watched Boozman making remarks to members of the press as he waited for his caretaker to pick him up. He says Little Rock’s VA could use additional staff.
“I got a brother who has been a nurse here for 20 years and they all complain about being overworked but they should hire more people they need them,” said Waldorf.
As for the push to provide veterans with access to private doctors rather than putting that money alongside funds for more VA medical staff? Waldorf doesn’t like the idea.
“That’s just pushing the problem off on someone else. They should just back the system here, which they should do. The quality of care I’ve never had a problem with it’s just they're short of help and overworked and that’s probably why there’s more lines and people lost in the system,” said Waldorf.
Boozman said the problems with the VA – including backlogs and covering up wait times - still requires more to be done. The 63 year-old freshman senator says a drive toward digitizing records and enacting rules making it easier to remove senior VA staff will lead to improvements.
“We’ve still got a huge issue with veterans claims being old, not processed on time. We’re not just throwing money at the problem. This is something that we’re going to have to be very vigilant over for the next several years and really change the culture,” said Boozman.
Every member of Arkansas’s congressional delegation voted for the measure, except for Republican Representative Rick Crawford, a veteran who represents much of northeast Arkansas.