Concerns about getting services to veterans in the U.S. Virgin Islands centered primarily on health care, with vets telling a town hall meeting Thursday on St. Thomas that the current system requires veterans to frequently travel to Puerto Rico for treatment.
The session was one of two held in the territory to hear the concerns of the veterans.
The veterans said they often have to travel to Puerto Rico because there are no urgent care facilities or pharmacies approved by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
The veterans voiced their concerns to a panel made up of: Carlos Escobar, executive director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Caribbean Health Care System; Dr. Ramon Guerrito, associate chief of staff for primary care; Dr. Angie Zayas-Ortiz, chief of Community Care, and State Director of Veteran Affairs Patrick Farrell.
The panel outlined the process they are going through to get more approved providers in the territory.
They first need to set up a workshop to train more local providers on the administrative and paperwork side of the system so veterans just have to worry about getting care.
Once there are more providers veterans will receive quicker care in the Virgin Islands, they said.
The current process has a long delay from being authorized until the veteran sees a physician because of the lack of availability of approved providers.
Once there are more providers there will be more availability, they said.
Sometimes an operation is authorized, but not the therapy, veterans told the panel.
Guerrito agreed that “care needs to be complete,” and pledged “that will happen.” The VA is looking to bundle diagnostic care, follow-up care and recovery care so that veterans will only need one approval to get the care they need.
There are situations were veterans are forced to go to Puerto Rico to get care from approved centers and then must wait for their medication in the mail. One vet noted that it took him nearly a month to get medication that he was promised he would receive in close to a week.
This waiting around for medical supplies includes waiting for glasses. One vet asked, “How long does it take for a pair of glasses to get from Puerto Rico?“ and his comment was met by laughter from most of the veterans in attendance, who seemed to have had similar issues.
One veteran mentioned that it took five months to receive a pair.
The VA is looking to get this resolved by transitioning to a new provider and monitoring that provider’s performance.
Michelle May got to the microphone and announced that she is part of a group starting a new non-profit for veterans, Veterans Resources Development Inc, and hopes to bridge the disconnect between what veterans think they deserve versus what the VA offers.
May noted that the Virgin Islands has one of the highest rates for active combat veterans per capita and feels that “they are getting the worst treatment.”
If the system isn’t working, “We’ve got to do it for ourselves,” she said.
At the end of the meeting Escobar thanked the veterans for the “opportunity to listen” and said it is time for a “plan to action.”