La. veterans official wants access to private health care for vets

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wwltv.com

Posted on June 10, 2014 at 6:23 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 11 at 5:12 AM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

NEW ORLEANS -- David LeCerte led some of the first Marines into Afghanistan and Pakistan, just weeks after 9/11. He now leads Louisiana's Department of Veterans Affairs.

Like most returning vets, he too is alarmed by a new report pointing to long wait times at Veterans Administration medical facilities in the state.

"Those numbers are not acceptable," said LeCerte. "These numbers are not surprising to anyone who's familiar with the VA system or relies on it for the health care today."

According to the findings of an audit released by the U.S. Veterans Administration, new primary care patients waited an average of nearly 52 days for a doctor's appointment in New Orleans, 33 days in Alexandria and 44 days in Shreveport.

"These numbers have been reported by our veteran population for years," said LeCerte. "But, it's good that the VA is finally coming forward and acknowledging that this 14-day goal to get an appointment with them is a true farce."

Recently, Gov. Bobby Jindal and five other Republican governors sent President Obama a letter expressing outrage with the long VA wait times. They demanded the VA secure doctor appointments within 30 days or issue a federal voucher for treatment by private health care providers.

LeCerte said allowing the veterans themselves to opt out of the VA system for their health care is a total most have.

"President Obama and the VA system as a whole has the authority to do that," said LeCerte. "They have authority to provide non-VA care to individuals where VA care is unavailable or impractical. I think all VA care is unavailable and impractical."

LeCerte is already asking private health care to help bolster the idea.

"I know in Baton Rouge, we've encouraged local providers to create military and veteran specific programs, like at Baton Rouge General, which help treat military specific issues like post-traumatic stress issues, military actual traumas, traumatic brain injuries."

The secretary said as bad as the numbers appear to be here in Louisiana, he expects the VA wait times to get worse before they get better here.

"I think that the VA system has grown to a size that's very hard to manage," said LeCerte. "I think the VA has allowed their employees to get away with these problems over decades. It's just created a culture of incompetency that's unacceptable here."

The VA flagged itss three Louisiana hospitals and the VA clinic in Baton Rouge for further review.

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