IOWA CITY, Iowa - From his conversations with Iowa City VA leadership Tuesday, Congressman Dave Loebsack believes the hospital is doing what it can to keep up with high demand for medical care. As of March this year, the clinic had just over 66,000 veterans enrolled for care.
Congressman Loebsack and acting VA director Sandra Horsman said the hospital and its staff are doing their best to keep wait times for appointments low.
But Vietnam veteran John Lehner of Cedar Rapids told us there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Lehner injured his spine in the Vietnam War, and 40 years and two strokes later, he’s constantly medicated.
“I’m in unbelievable pain, period. I can’t lift this arm, I can’t use my hand,” said Lehner, holding up his right arm with his left hand.
About that time, Lehner started receiving care at the Iowa City VA, and he said it’s changed for the worse in recent years.
“In ‘78, my god, they were the best on the planet. They treated you, just, ‘what can we do?’ Now, it’s a completely different story.”
He goes about three months between visits to neurologists, but his wait times for primary care appointments are longer.
“It used to be every six months, right on the dime, and now I’m well over a year.”
However, Horsman said wait times differ on a case-to-case basis, and depend on the type of care needed.
She said the hospital is constantly re-evaluating their appointments.
“That list is reviewed daily, at minimum weekly, to make sure that if a cancellation happens, we can get somebody off the electronic waiting list.”
Congressman Loebsack said having the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics nearby keeps the Iowa City VA’s average wait time of roughly 26 days from being longer.
“We’re very lucky in this part of Iowa, because there is that connection the University of Iowa,” Loebsack explained. “And keep in mind, not every VA hospital around the country has that same kind of access.”
However, Loebsack said improvements in funding, staff, and space are still needed, something Horsman said is a constant balancing act.
“I can tell you for Iowa City, we have staffed up in the last year and increased the number of providers we have available, but we do have some space limitations,” Horsman told us.
As for allegations of fraudulent reporting of wait times for veterans at other hospitals, the Iowa City VA appears to have a clean bill of health.
“We just had a review from VHA (Veterans Health Administration) two Fridays ago; they’re not finding those things here,” Horsman said.