Area veterans spoke out about the lack of medical services available to them in Payson at a meeting Monday night.
Nearly 180 Rim Country veterans, their families and friends met to talk about a Veterans Administration medical clinic in the area. Many expressed substantial dissatisfaction with what is currently available to them through the office of Dr. Mark Ivey.
Chris Bacon, associate director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, explained that Ivey is limited in what he can provide due to contract limitations. Jim Muhr, who moderated the program for the veterans committee that sponsored the meeting, reiterated Bacon’s comments on behalf of Ivey.
Ivey took quite a verbal beating, quietly sitting at the back of the large hall at Messinger’s Mortuary. He then spoke up, telling the crowd he appreciated all their comments and is 100 percent behind getting a clinic in Payson that can provide more services to the area’s veterans.
The committee has worked on getting information about creating a VA clinic for several months. Some have made trips to Show Low to see the clinic operating there. It is serving about 2,300 veterans with two doctors and support staff in 1,500 square feet. It is now being expanded in size, plus two more doctors are going to be serving veterans in the White Mountains.
Part of the reason for the Sept. 26 meeting was to get a sense of how many veterans are in the Rim Country and to solicit individual and group support for a campaign to get a clinic to serve them.
David Charnetsky, a facility planner with the Phoenix VA Health Care System, said there are about 1,400 Rim Country residents enrolled with the VA and about 800 using one of the VA services.
Bacon explained to the crowd the “process” by which a community edge grows about the contract clinic, use goes up and eventually that usually leads to the creation of a part-time VA outreach clinic staffed with VA personnel. Should the use of the part-time clinic dictate the need, it becomes a full-time facility, such as the one in Show Low.
Part of the process of getting a clinic to provide more services to area veterans is to identify space that could be used and local medical personnel that would be willing to become VA employees.
Alternatives to having a local clinic for veterans would be to work with Payson Regional Medical Center and area physicians and medical specialists to make the VA’s fee-based program available. The problem with that is the VA would only be reimbursing the health care providers using the Medicare costs structure. Bacon said that is not an especially popular way to go with many providers.
It was suggested that either transportation to existing VA facilities or mobile care units be used to provide Rim Country veterans with services.
Sylvia Vela, the interim chief of staff with the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, said she was wondering about mobile units as well. Bacon said the problem with that is the cost cuts the VA has made to its transportation budget make it unlikely mobile units would be a possibility.
To further dampen the enthusiasm for a VA clinic in Payson, Penny Pew, constituent services director for Congressman Paul Gosar, told the crowd with the budget constraints and ongoing cost-cutting efforts, a standalone facility is highly unlikely. She said the best option probably would be to work with PRMC to provide more veterans services.
The organizing group still urged those attending to write to the VA, to Bacon, to the district’s representatives and senators in Congress. It was also recommended they get their families, friends, service organizations and members of other groups to which they belong to write as well.