They put their lives on the line to keep us safe, but some veterans in our area said they have to travel up to two hours to get the health care services they need. The problem centers around the staff shortages at the Lee County Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic.
Lawrence Schneider served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Now, he relies on the VA clinic in Lee County to help him.
“I have diabetes,” Schneider said. “I’m fixing to have to go on insulin and it’s depressing. I have chronic PTSD.”
Schneider visits the VA several times a month. He said it is hard to miss the turnover.
“Once you get established with your primary doctor and nurses and specialists, you feel comfortable,” Schneider said. “Then, all of a sudden, you go in and you’ve been assigned a new doctor or a new nurse.”
Schneider needs a neurologist. The VA clinic in Lee County does not have one.
What is happening in Lee County likely reflects a nationwide trend. The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs admits 96% of its health care facilities reported at least one severe staff shortage at the end of last year. It has a dire need for nurses and specialists, like neurologists.
Danny Burgess, executive director for Florida Department of Veteran Affairs,” said there are 1.5 million veterans in Florida. “There are gaps in services that we have to try to backfill,” he said.
Currently, there are no plans to build a VA hospital in Southwest Florida. Locally, the VA blames the shortages on a lack of qualified applicants, geography and private sector competition that is more lucrative.
Schneider told WINK News the VA tries to make up for shortages by directing him to outside providers, but he wants to see the clinic grow. He wants to get the care he and so many other veterans said they deserve.
“I just keep praying and hoping,” Schneider said, “that they will make the expansion.”