Congressman O'Rourke addresses VA wait times at town hall meeting

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POSTED: Saturday, June 28, 2014 - 3:11pm

UPDATED: Monday, June 30, 2014 - 9:47am

Congressman Beto O'Rourke (D-TX 16th District) spoke to residents at his monthly town hall meeting. One of the most pressing topics for attendees and O'Rourke was the VA wait time scandal that's affected El Paso veterans.

Dan Webb, a veteran, was one of the many veterans in the audience.

"We've identified our problem, but what are we doing about our problems? What are we doing to fix them," asked Webb.

An audit earlier this month showed that the El Paso VA had some of the longest wait times in the country. It showed veterans in El Paso waited an average of 71 days for mental health assistance.

"We can no longer rely on the VA to tell us how the VA is doing. We have to ask the veterans themselves. They'll give us the truth and the real answers," O'Rourke said.

This is why O'Rourke, along with a bipartisan coalition of members of congress, introduced the Ask Veterans Act on Thursday. Using El Paso as a model for other VAs across the country.

"The Ask Veterans Act will take what we did in El Paso, which is essentially survey veterans to find out what the true wait times are to get care, and use those numbers to determine whether we have a problem at our local VHA (veterans health administration)," O'Rourke said.

This annual survey will be much like the one O'Rourke conducted back in early June, which brought to light the long wait times for El Paso veterans.

"After we completed our survey, we were able to show the lack of care and access to care in El Paso; this community got an additional $1.9 million from the Veterans Health Administration," O'Rourke said.

But, he said, there is still more to work on. He said over all, there is a lack of health care professionals for veterans in the Sun City.

"Physicians and nurses who are specialty trained do command a higher dollar and, unfortunately within the VA system, it's not a great deal of money," said Richard Lamar, with William Beaumont Army Medical Center.    

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