Two U.S. congressmen visited the Marion VA Medical Center Tuesday as part of a Veterans Listening Tour.
Congressman Mike Bost of Murphysboro hosted House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Phil Roe from Tennessee to learn more about the effort to reform hiring practices at the facility.
Bost is helping spearhead the reform legislation. But, he says in-person visits like this are important to see firsthand what improvements are being made in terms of veterans' care.
"The docs are meeting with the nurses on a regular basis, giving an overview of the patient. 'Where are we at with the patient?' Where before, we had got into a system where you were loading your opinions in the computer, but you weren't talking one-on-one. They're moving forward with that."
Chairman Roe says correcting problems in the VA is not easy because it's such a large bureaucracy.
"There are 168 different medical centers that the VA has in their system. When you go to one VA medical center, you've been to one VA medical center. They're all a little different. They all have different services they provide and there are gaps in those services."
Roe says the recently passed VA Mission Act helps eliminate the gap in care by requiring the VA to coordinate timely care for veterans outside their region of residence.
Lawmakers are working to reform hiring practices within the VA under new Secretary Robert Wilkie.
Multiple employees at Marion raised concerns in the past about distrust between leadership and management.
Chairman Roe says a lack of leadership at the federal level has made reforms more difficult.
"This is my 4th VA secretary in less than ten years. We need some stability at the top of the VA. Also, the Senate needs to get moving as soon as they're available and fill those under-secretary positions because right now there's a void in leadership at the VA. That void has got to be filled. These folks here need to know who their marching orders come from. Right now, they don't."
Roe says he believes the Marion VA is about to turn the corner since the leadership team is 60-percent new.
A leadership overhaul at the Marion VA Medical Center is designed to avoid some of the healthcare issues of the past.
One of the most egregious occurred in 2010 when a radiologist missed a mass in a kidney of Kirby Williams. Last December, that mass had grown to the point where the 66-year-old man has only a few years to live.
Rocky Morris of Benton is a Vietnam Veteran who receives medical care at the Marion VA. He says veterans want to know how many botched readings have occurred.
"Are we properly notifying these other people that, 'hey, we could've misread this?' The VA needs to take a step forward, and if it's 60 or if it's 200, these people need to be notified."
Congressman Roe says as a physician, he's pleased to see the facility takes steps to solve this problem.
"They've hired new radiologists, which was the right thing to do. It's kind of like an exam. I've read these x-rays and a certain number of them we did a second opinion on these x-rays to be sure they're done right. I think they're doing some things that are very positive here."