Gulf Coast VA Says Growth Adds To Capacity Challenges
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Biloxi VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it's improving access to care – and veterans are responding by turning to the VA for more services. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System is one of the VA facilities seeing this growth.

Director Anthony Dawson says the Gulf Coast VA saw 70,000 patients last year.

“Of those, we had 1 million encounters. This is about 54,000 over what we’ve seen in FY 2014. That’s about a 5 percent increase, so we are continuing to grow on the Gulf Coast," he says.

Dawson says the increasing numbers are part of the challenge in providing veterans with quick access to care, but the VA here has been able to improve wait times for appointments through additional hiring and by sending patients to the community for care when needed.

Air Force veteran Bill Parker is one of the satisfied Gulf Coast VA patients, so much so, he’s now volunteering on four V-A councils to help try to improve access and veteran satisfaction even more. He also spoke at a recent VA press conference.

“I don’t think the word is getting out about how hard the VA is working to fix its problems," he says. 

Parker says another issue is some vets may not know how to access the services that are available.

“Worse than that, they don’t know how to, and they don’t know that they don’t know how to, all they know is that they’re not getting the services," Parker says. "So we start teaching them, you’ve got to do your part and then the VA will do their part.”

The Gulf Coast VA says the average wait time for primary care visits is six days.