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Witness Testimony of Shirley A. Rentschler, National Service Officer, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Deparment of Michigan

Iron Mountain, MI
June 16, 2011

The Honorable Congressman Dan Benishek
500 South Stephenson -Suite #500
Iron Mountain, MI 49801

RE: Veterans Affairs Field Hearing

Thank you for your invitation to participate in your Veterans Affairs Field Hearing on Monday, June 20, 2011 at the Iron Mountain VA Medical Center. I believe that our Iron Mountain (Oscar G. Johnson) VA Medical Center is one of the finest facilities serving the veterans of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin. Over the past couple of decades, I have seen the growth of veterans' care at our VA Medical Center with many veterans saying they feel like they are being treated like royalty.

Regarding the issues addressed in the House letter of June 8, 2011, I offer the following comments:

  • Delivery of healthcare to rural veterans ... has been great with the addition of the home health care, specialty clinics, women veterans' programs. I would like to see a dermatologist and more hours for our chiropractor.
  • Recruitment and retention of medical personnel including leadership .,. we have some very caring medical personnel at our facility and I think it's important that when recruiting physicians, that they also be fully trained in VA law regarding pension and service connection disabilities and what is needed when documentation is concerned. I understand that sometimes recruiting to a small remote area like Iron Mountain is difficult, but would like to see longevity of providers. Sometimes, the veterans get frustrated because their providers are changed often. Most of our VAMC providers have compassion for our veterans when treating them and listening to their concerns, but we also have a few that do belittle them, are disrespectful, not understanding the physical and mental demands of being in the service. To our veterans, their conditions are real. At times, their providers would even ask 'are you just looking for some more money?' This is unacceptable. In regards to most compensation exams, they have greatly improved, are done with efficiency and thoroughness with respect to the veterans.
  • Mental Health ... longer wait time to get appointments especially for WW-I1, Korean and Vietnam veterans because OEF / OIF veterans have preference at this time. Would like to see more providers or outreach facilities as well more counselors at the Vets Center in Escanaba as well.
  • Telehealth programs ... Our veterans would like to see more of this type of service as it would ease up VAMC's appointment slots and workload to allow the VAMC providers more time with individuals to discuss their medical problems and concerns. This would also be more cost effective for the veterans.
  • Community partnerships ... More of this partnering would be more cost efficient and effective, and to help our veterans with the different resources available in their own communities; I would encourage more of this type of programming.

I would also like to make a couple of comments regarding ...

  • Fee Basis ... such as chemotherapy, physical therapy and chiropractic care. In the U.P. of Michigan, it is sometimes impossible for the veteran to drive to Iron Mountain for chemo treatment especially when he or she is taking numerous medications. The same thing for physical therapy as the long drive into Iron Mountain is sometimes an aggravation of their condition. I would like to see more outreach for these types of treatments to ease the pain for the veterans.
  • VA and/or VAMC forms ... Service Officers work with veterans, of course, but also with their dependents and/or surviving spouse. On occasion, when a veteran passes away, the physicians should be more conscious about all the veteran's conditions when they fill out the death certificate as it could result in a grant or denial for spousal benefits. This would also be a good subject for educating our physicians in our community partnerships. At times, it is also necessary to have the VAMC provider fill out forms that would support the veteran's claim and we would request thoroughness for each form to eliminate another request.

Thank you for allowing me to participate in this hearing for the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health.

Respectfully,

Shirley A. Rentschler
Military Order of the Purple Heart
Department of Michigan
National Service Officer