In early November, a team from the American Legion headquarters in Washington, D.C., made a trip to the Island’s American Legion Post #257 to hold a roundtable discussion about Veterans Administration (VA) healthcare. At that meeting, over 30 Island veterans attended and voiced their concern that there has been no locally provided VA healthcare on the Island since 2004.
At that meeting, the veterans and Veterans Services were told that there would be a new contract in place in early 2012.
Jo Ann Murphy, Director of Veterans Services at Dukes County Veterans said, “They said by February and we’re running out of February.”
The contract between the VA and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital lapsed in 2004, and went unnoticed until 2008 when vets began receiving bills from collection agencies. A new contract has remained in the works ever since. Currently, Island veterans with a VA health plan must be pre-approved by a clinic in Hyannis in order to be treated on the Island.
Murphy said that many times, that approval can take from two weeks to over a month.
“Some things they are not going to approve because it’s cheaper for them to have the veterans go to Hyannis,” said Murphy referring to the Hyannis Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC).
Sometimes, according to Murphy, this includes patients who are in the 90s.
“There is a man here who is 94 and they wanted him to go to Hyannis for an appointment. It’s not easy for someone that age to make that trip. It’s an all-day exhausting adventure,” said Murphy.
She said that the only good thing the VA has done in this situation is to continue to fill and refill veteran’s prescriptions.
Many veterans, like Woodrow "Woody" Williams - a Marine and a Vietnam veteran, have to travel as far as the Providence VA Medical Center (VAMC) for healthcare services. Williams has been a major advocate for bringing VA care back to the Island since the contract lapsed.
Williams, who grew up on the Island and now lives in Vineyard Haven, even went as far as putting a 30-page write up of the situation into Senator Scott Brown’s hands himself when Brown visited the Island this past summer.
According to Williams that is the third such report he’s given to Brown (and has sent the same reports to Senator John Kerry). So far, he’s heard nothing in response from either senator.
“And it’s an election year, can you imagine?” he said. “If we can’t get this taken care of before November, then it’s just not going to happen.”
Williams said he’s not surprised that the contract has still not been signed. “It took me seven years of making formal complaints about the care we get in Providence for someone to even come out here,” said Williams.
Williams called the quality of care at the VAMC “terrible” and said he often travels hours just to have a doctor see him for ten minutes.
“A lot of guys just say ‘the hell with it, I’m just not going to get any medical care,” he said.
The VA covers veterans’ visits to MVH without prior approval only for life-threatening situations. However, recently MVH president and chief executive officer Tim Walsh stated that until a contract was in place the MVH would treat veterans whether or not the VA chose to pay for it.
“None of us knows what is holding it up. It’s really a bureaucratic mess at this point. We just want them to renew their contract,” said Murphy.