Cavalier County Veterans Services Officer Leon Hiltner worked in conjunction with Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s office in Grand Forks to hold a “Heidi Helps” session in order to hear and better understand the issues facing not only veterans in Cavalier County but a variety of other topics that Senator Heitkamp could address and tackle.
Posted on 4/23/16
By Melissa Anderson
Senator Heitkamp’s office in Grand Forks reached out to Hiltner about setting up a “Heidi Helps” session in Langdon to hear issues that veterans had.
“She wanted to do an outreach and I provided the means,” Hiltner explained.
Senator Heitkamp’s Field Representative Cathy Peterson, herself an active military member, accepted feedback from over a dozen veterans and community members present in a round table set up.
The major point of contention from the veterans present was in the inadequate service provided by the VA Choice program, with many complaints directed towards the extended wait times for every aspect of interaction with the program.
Every veteran was in agreement about not having a problem with the services provided by the VA hospital or staff but the inclusion of a third party to set up the appointments made the entire experience of gaining health services a hassle.
“VA Choice is a great concept but it needs to address emergency care, allowing veterans to make their own appointments, and the issue of getting medications,” Hiltner stated.
Cavalier County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) Chief Financial Officer Marcus Lewis, who works very hard to implement and make the VA Choice program successful at CCMH, was also present. Lewis, himself a veteran, knows the importance of making sure veterans receive the care they need in a timely manner.
“The VA Choice program was designed to allow veterans to see doctors locally rather than traveling to the nearest VA hospital/clinic, making services needed easier to get by veterans and be provided by local facilities,” Lewis said,” But the process basically fails miserably on both the patient and providers’ point-of-view. The pre authorization requirement, prescription limitation, and outpatient restrictions are causing unnecessary confusion and delays in providing care.”
Assisting North Dakota veterans and addressing the shortfalls of the VA Choice program is one of the major issues that Senator Heitkamp is hoping to accomplish in the future and is working on legislation to do so.
“It’s good that Senator Heitkamp is focused on veteran’s issues,” Hiltner said, “ It’s nice to know we are not forgotten.”
The input and information gathered by Peterson will be taken back to Senator Heitkamp’s office in Grand Forks and will be used to help the Senator address the concerns raised.
“My ‘Heidi Helps’ sessions guarantee that folks who don’t live near one of my five North Dakota offices can access my staff to get help with federal programs – and these sessions also give my staff and me feedback on the issues that impact North Dakotans most,” said U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp.
“Input from North Dakotans was critical in crafting the bill I introduced to improve rural mail delivery and service last year, and the reforms I’ve proposed to the VA Choice Program this year are the result of North Dakotans sharing with me how hard it is for veterans to get care in their home communities. Hearing from North Dakotans across our state makes a difference.”
For those in attendance, having the chance to make their frustrations known to Senator Heitkamp was the first step in hoping to address the shortfalls of the VA Choice program.
“It’s great that we can have these sessions and have a voice,” Lewis said.
“It was very nice of Senator Heitkamp to send a representative up,” Hiltner said,” It would be good if other federal representatives, Congressman Kevin Cramer and Senator John Hoeven, did the same.”
Other topics that were addressed at the “Heidi Helps” session was frustrations with the U.S. Postal Service, airspace issues and drone usage, and Medicare. Hiltner stressed that the main purpose of the session was to get input from veterans on the VA Choice program that could help Senator Heitkamp create a solution.
“I hope she (Cathy Peterson) takes the messages back to Senator Heitkamp so it can be revamped to allow veterans to be more direct with their care,” Hiltner said.