Kansas joins call for power to review VA sites

(AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Mike Hutmacher)
(AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Mike Hutmacher)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday blasted as “unacceptable” the unauthorized waiting lists for health care at U.S. Veterans Administration facilities in Wichita and elsewhere, and he joined other Republican governors in seeking authority for the states to conduct their own inspections.

Brownback offered his first public statement about the uproar over veterans’ health care, a day after an official at the VA medical center in Wichita confirmed that it had an unauthorized list of 385 veterans who were waiting for care, some of them for more than 90 days.

In a letter dated Tuesday to President Barack Obama, Brownback and the GOP governors of Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania and Texas decried “monumental problems” at the VA. It asks the federal government to allow states to review Veterans Administration facilities, recommend changes in their operations and partner with the VA to provide oversight.

The governors also are calling on the federal government to issue vouchers to veterans who can’t secure an appointment for care at a VA facility within 30 days. In Washington, senior U.S. senators reached agreement Thursday on a bill expanding veterans’ ability to get government-paid care outside VA hospitals and clinics.

“We must honor our military and provide them the quality care they have earned,” Brownback said in his statement Thursday.

But Gregg Burden, executive director of the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs, said there have been no discussions on what more the state could do.

The commission has eight staffers in Topeka and 23 service representatives statewide that help veterans file for federal benefits and claims. It operates four cemeteries and long-term care homes in Dodge City and Winfield. Its total budget will increase by 4 percent in the fiscal year beginning in July, but is less than $23 million.

But Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley notes that the state has hospital inspectors outside the commission.

The Veterans Administration says about 224,000 veterans live in Kansas, representing about 8 percent of the state’s population. The biggest group, about 76,000, served during the Vietnam War.

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Associated Press writer John Hanna also contributed to this report.

 

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