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President takes action to improve veterans' services

Federal action — Executive orders require improving wait times, mental health services

The White House presented 19 executive actions to improve veterans’ services last week at the American Legion National Convention.

“They were there for America,” President Barack Obama said. “We now need to be there for them.”

He acknowledged the “inexcusable delays” in wait times for veterans as VA hospitals that had been a focal point in the media after it was discovered many were waiting up to a year to visit a doctor. Photo Credit: SUBMITTED - Progress made - Wait times for veterans at VA hospitals had been a focal point in the media after it was discovered many were waiting up to a year to visit a doctor.

In a statement, the administration said the steps will “ensure that this never happens again, and we will keep at it as long as it takes.”

Among the steps to reduce wait times, there is also a new pilot program to improve mental health care for veterans through peer support as well as automatically enrolling outgoing military members who receive mental health treatment into a bridge program and expanding suicide prevention programs.

These changes were called for locally as well, specifically by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who discussed the issue at length during a Newberg community forum in July.

“I’ve committed to do everything that I can to make sure we get something out of the conference committee that is helpful and that addresses the needs of the communities,” Bonamici said.

In Oregon, wait times haven’t been as extreme as in other states. For first-time enrollees applying to see a primary physician, wait times were averaging 32 days in Salem, 14 days in Hillsboro and 12 days in West Linn. But the average time to decide if veterans were eligible for services was much longer, nearing 150 days.

The only local veteran to attend the forum, VFW Com­man­der Wayne Miller, expressed his positive experiences with the system.

“I (don’t) have a prob­lem with the VA,” Mil­ler said. “So far every time I go there, they’re nice, they get me in, get me out, so I don’t face any problems myself.”

The De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Affairs has 180 days from the Aug. 31 order to present plans to reduce wait times as well as plans for the other mental health efforts.

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