By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service
LANSING — Nationally, a majority of veterans may wait more than 30 days for their appointments with doctors, according to a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. However, more than 90 percent of veterans in Michigan can complete their appointments within 30 days, according to VA centers in Ann Arbor and Detroit.
According to Lauren DeVol, a public information officer at the state Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, Michigan has more than 660,000 veterans, the 11th highest in the United States.
Of them, more than 220,000 — or 33.5 — percent live in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, DeVol said.
For the VA center in Detroit, the access problem is not that serious, an official said.
“Our access numbers have been extremely good,” said Alysse Mengason, a public affairs officer at John D. Dingell VA Medical Center. “We’ve got about 96 to 98 percent of veterans who we are seeing in 30 days or less, which meets the national standard.”
However, Mengason said there are a couple of areas where access challenges remain, but “we are struggling very hard with it.
“We have a tremendous amount of veterans who are in need of care. And there are some areas where we have implemented a few different measures to attempt to tackle some of our challenges,” Mengason said.
According to Mengason, the center has undertaken steps to improve access.
“Several months ago, we began to see patients on Saturdays and in the evening on Nov. 14. We opened up several of our specialty clinics to veterans. We invited 50 veterans who were waiting for appointments to come on Saturdays for care,” she said.
Mengason said the VA system center in Detroit has been doing a good job ensuring that veterans can see their doctors within 30 days.
“Access is something that we are very dedicated to, making sure our veterans are getting to see their specialists at the time they want to see them. It’s extremely crucial to us,” she said.
Derek Atkinson, a public affairs officer at VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, said 97 percent of its facilities can complete appointments with veterans within 30 days or under.
However, Atkinson said there is always an opportunity for improvement in access, and the VA center at Ann Arbor is doing a lot of things to address problems.
“We’ve hired more than 100 additional staff to increase access in the past year,” said Atkinson. “We’ve also turned to things like tele-health. For clinics located in Flint, Jackson or Toledo, which are more difficult to get specialists to, we can do tele-health for them. And we are doing mental tele-health right now.”
Atkinson said the Ann Arbor VA system takes advantage of the University of Michigan, which prevents a shortage of doctors that exists in other places.
By ZHAO PENG