Veterans at risk of missing VA appointments due to contract disp - Tucson News Now

Veterans at risk of missing VA appointments due to contract dispute

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

An estimated 200 veterans a day are at risk of not making their Tucson VA medical appointments because of a contract dispute, possibly putting their health in jeopardy.

Southern Arizona VA Health Care System learned Friday, May 19, that its exclusive non-emergency transportation contractor, LMC Medical Transport, was not able to pick up all veterans who are entitled to beneficiary travel benefits.

LMC officials told Tucson News Now it’s because some of the drivers quit, claiming the government stopped paying them.

Vietnam veteran Kalvin Vigorito lives an hour away from the Tucson VA. He relies on LMC to get a free ride to his VA appointments and has already missed three appointments because of the disruption in service. Due to a knee injury, he can’t drive himself and has no friends or family to take him.

On Monday, May 22, he made one of his appointments because an LMC driver was available. However, he was told he couldn’t make his other appointment on Tuesday, May 23, because there’s nobody available to pick him up.  

“(I’m) frustrated, upset, angry, distraught,” Vigorito said.

He said he’s more worried about wheelchair-bound veterans in need of making dialysis and cancer treatments.

“Sometimes it takes two weeks if you’re lucky to get another appointment. It might take three weeks, it might take longer,” he said.

The SAVAHCS medical center director, William Caron, told Tucson News Now he’s not able to explain specifics about why this has become a problem.

“I don’t have details on the disruption of service because the vendor relationship with contracting is at arms-length from the medical center itself,” Caron said.

However, he assured veterans who are in need of crucial care, that they will get the ride they need.

“We prioritize and triage accordingly and of course all veterans entitled to beneficiary travel benefits have other travel options. The VA transportation system we use is one of many options that they can use. They could certainly use an Uber or a taxi or drive themselves and be reimbursed for cost or mileage,” Caron said.

However, some veterans said they simply cannot afford that cost.

“We’re going to do everything in our power for what we can control,” Caron said.

Right now that includes using the VA’s own transportation service, volunteer drivers with the Disabled Veterans of America, and asking employees to work overtime.

“I can almost 100 percent guarantee that we will do everything we can in our power to accommodate, but I can’t account for some of the unexpected,” Caron said.

It’s unknown how long this contract dispute could last, but Caron said, “We can sustain this as long as we need to. Right now, we’re hoping for some closure or further information if we have to implement emergency contracts. That can be done, we’re hoping by end of the week.”

SAVAHCS released the following statement on Monday, May 22: 

LMC had a significant disruption in service last Friday due to an unexpected staffing challenge. SAVAHCS worked collaboratively with LMC to coordinate transportation for our Beneficiary travel eligible Veterans, and there was no further disruption of service during the weekend. LMC is meeting all of their contractual requirements today, and we are optimistic that they will continue to do so moving forward. 
Veterans with transportation questions may call the SAVAHCS Beneficiary Travel Office at (520) 792-1450 Extension 4626.

If you or a veteran you know may be worried, contact the SAVAHCS Beneficiary Travel Office with transportation questions at (520) 792-1450 x4626.

If you are interested in volunteering to be a driver with Disabled American Veterans at https://www.dav.org/

VA volunteer services 520-629-1822

MOBILE USERS: Download our app on your Apple and Android devices.

Copyright 2017 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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