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Dec 13, 2011 7:50 PM by Matt Stafford

VA wait times too much for local vet

"I am so blessed that this woman stuck with me; I mean I've put her through the test," says Don Dupuis, a Vietnam veteran. He says it's the 40-plus years of P.T.S.D. he's had since coming home from war.

"Something wasn't right; I just didn't know what it was," says Dupuis. "At the drop of a hat I would just explode."

It was something that wasn't talked about as much back then. Don's wife, Marikay, didn't know what to do. The Woodland Park couple tried counseling for Don through Veterans' Affairs, and just about anything else they could think of.

"That didn't help, and it would just get worse and worse and worse," says Marikay.

"So you're saying that this is something that not only needs treatment, but it needs repetitive treatment?" News 5 asks Marikay.

"Yes, yes."

That's where the issue comes in; an investigation from the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is looking into long wait times at the V.A., and a lot of red tape to get through to get help - many times taking months to get in for services.

"If you were going to make an appointment for something mental health related how long would that take?" News 5 asked Don.

"About a month to three months," Dupuis says. "I've pretty much stopped going there."

Don thinks those wait times will only get worse.

"Right now there's a lot of guys coming in to the V.A.," says Don. He, and some southern Colorado private health care providers tell News 5 they think these wait times just mean V.A. should be sharing the load.

Donna Finicle, a former mental health care clinic manager for V.A. in Colorado Springs for 24 years, says these problems are nothing new; they've been dealing with them for years. She's been retired for a little over five years; from what she can tell Finicle says the local V.A. clinic is trying to see more people, but they're under pressure to help the large numbers of young veterans coming home. She says they have trouble following up in a timely manner.

Finicle does say the local V.A. clinic's staff is up, but so is the need. She says that the conversation towards V.A. out sourcing to community health care providers is growing, fast. In her opinion, that's the answer; she says with the numbers they'll be facing in years ahead, it may be the only way to keep up.

"If they could out source, then they could take care of the vets immediately," Don agrees.

Don has sought treatments outside of what the government pays for him; he says for the ones that work, he's willing to pay. He's started visiting the Warrior Relaxation Response Center in Colorado Springs, and he thinks their methods work for him; however it's not covered for Dupuis as a veteran by the government. He doesn't care and says he would rather pay to go there than wait for V.A.

"I want to get better, and for her (Marikay)... I know she wants to," says Don.

Veterans Affairs released a statement to News 5 after being asked about the wait times at V.A. clinics as well as their thought on out sourcing care:

VA places the highest priority on providing our Veterans suffering from mental health issues and PTSD with timely, responsive and quality care. Under the leadership of Secretary Shinseki, VA has expanded access to mental health care services for Veterans by hiring more staff, treating more patients, and providing benefits to more Veterans. But we recognize there is still more work to be done.

VA has set a high standard to ensure that Veterans receive timely access to mental health services. We know from independent reports that access to VA mental health care is equal to or better than private medical practices, and we continue to research ways to improve the measurement of that access.

VA will continue to explore possible barriers to care and is implementing new measures to ensure that Veterans receive timely mental health services.

Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, and Richard Burr (R-NC), on the committee as well; are calling for an audit from V.A.'s Inspector General into the wait times veterans are facing, and how the department is tracking those times. They sent a letter asking for the audit December 6th.

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