Tucson group cuts through red tape for veterans who need VA medi - Tucson News Now

Tucson group cuts through red tape for veterans who need VA medical services

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A Tucson group is working to help veterans get the help they need from the Veterans Administration when the veterans run into problems getting the health care they need.

The Federation of Southern Arizona Veterans (FOSAV) is a group of veterans who have learned to cut through red tape.

They have created their own access to administrators at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System in Tucson.

They recently assisted Vietnam War Veteran Gary Riggs.

"I haven't seen a doctor since December 2013," Riggs said.

The U.S. Army veteran says he had tried for months to get in to see a doctor at the VA in Tucson, even going through the VA advocates available to him.

"I have rods in my neck that have screws in them and at this point, it's starting to affect the nerves in my left arm. And I need that addressed," Riggs says.

Riggs didn't want stronger drugs he was offered. He wanted to see a doctor.

"I just got to the point where I didn't know where to turn," he says.

Then Riggs heard about FOSAV.

"We're advocates for veterans and make sure that they get better health care and mental health care," says FOSAV Chairman of the Board Ed Wagner.

Wagner says his group focuses on those issues, and does not deal with eligibility.

The group formed in 2010 out of necessity.

"I personally had not been able to see a doctor for over eight months and I thought, 'They serve just under 200,000 veterans. I can't be the only one,'" Wagner says. "I determined there were other vets with more serious issues than mine, including cancer, that couldn't get in to see a doctor."

Wagner and other veterans fought for access. They now meet four times a year with VA administrators in Tucson, bringing up issues affecting veterans.

For instance, Wagner says one day at the Tucson VA he met a veteran who had been waiting five hours for eye drops.

It was a weekend and the only pharmacist on duty had to focus on hospital patients first.

Wagner says he brought up the problem to VA administrators.

"What they've done since then is they put in like a vending machine thing where the doctors can get this type of medication from that vending machine-- now, a vet will still have to wait if it's a strong narcotic that they've been prescribed--changes like that that we've been able to make."

Wagner says they also have instant access to a top administrator when a veteran needs help now.

"We can call her directly. She makes sure that if a vet's having an issue that it gets taken care of in a very timely basis. So things have changed. They have gotten better from the issues we were facing way back when," Wagner says.

"I can't believe how fast he got results," Riggs says of Wagner. "I had no knowledge that there was anybody out there that was helping us veterans that were falling through the cracks."

Riggs called Wagner on Monday. A VA clinic nurse called Riggs on Tuesday.

Riggs has an appointment with a doctor next week.

"Oh, it makes me feel good that I finally get to see a doctor," Riggs says.

Wagner says the Federation of Southern Arizona veterans does not take donations and does not charge for its services.

To learn more about the federation, including contact information, click here.

The FOSAV phone number is 520-488-8217.

We asked a VA administrator for an interview for this report, however, we were told schedules could not be rearranged in time for our report.  

Southern Arizona VA Health Care System Associate Director Jennifer Gutowski, with whom the FOSAV veterans meet on a quarterly basis, did send a comment via email late in the day.

“Unfortunately I am not available to conduct the live interview this evening due to a previously scheduled meeting with our VA Voluntary Service Organization representatives. The Southern Arizona VA Health Care System routinely meets with representatives of various Veterans’ Service Organizations and other Veterans’ and family groups who actively support the southern Arizona Veteran population. We meet with these Veterans’ organizations because they help provide valuable feedback from the Veterans they serve and represent.

If a Veteran or family member has an issue or concern they need help resolving, we have a patient advocate office staffed with employees, who are also Veterans who can help them. Common concerns include help with benefits, routine questions about eligibility, and requests for information about various SAVAHCS programs. Our patient advocates can be contacted at 520-629-6960. However, we also acknowledge that there are times when our Veterans’ groups help us identify potential problems or issues which we need to address.

The Southern Arizona VA Health Care System takes great pride in offering personalized proactive patient driven care to our Veterans. Our interactions with various Veterans’ groups have helped us enhance some of our services. SAVAHCS remains committed to providing the highest quality of care to our Veterans and we look forward to opportunities to meet with Veterans’ Service Organizations, other Veterans’ and family groups throughout southern Arizona.”

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