Mark Waite / Pahrump Valley Times - Congressman Steven Horsford, D-Nev., holds a town hall meeting at the Bob Ruud Community Center Friday to talk about veterans and senior issues.
Congressman Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said he asked Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki at the White House several weeks ago to sign an authorization letter for a new Pahrump VA clinic.
“We’re scheduled to do a conference call in the next few weeks so we can get a final answer where we are and what needs to be done. I can tell you we are near the final stages,” Horsford told an audience during a town hall meeting at the Bob Ruud Community Center Friday.
The new clinic, more than double the 3,000-square-foot clinic on Calvada Boulevard, will be located next to Desert View Hospital; there are two eligible and responsive bidders, Horsford said. Disabled American Veterans representative Bob Hammond pressed him on the issue saying he has been working on that project three or four years.
“On virtually all of these federal VA buildings there is an automatic appeals process that a contractor who bids, who fails to get selected can pursue, that they try to exhaust every possible loophole or avenue that someone could use to challenge the bid and I’m like OK, that was a sufficient answer last year when you’re doing the procurement but now we’re a year later so why is it still not done?” Horsford asked. “They’re trying to do everything possible that if an appeal occurs there was enough to substantiate a decision that was made and it doesn’t unwind the whole process and requires us to go back and do it again.”
Hammond said when veterans appointments are canceled it can take two to three months to get rescheduled. He said it takes six to 12 months for a veteran to get his wife’s status approved.
“It takes months for financial or other support to take place. By that time the veteran has passed away. The comment I get in the office, it takes so long to get these claims that they’re waiting for us to die before they give us the benefit,” Hammond said.
He said veterans need help while Congress is trimming VA benefits. “Don’t use the veterans as a means of balancing the budget.”
Horsford said actually the Veterans Administration hasn’t been cut, in fact they had a 13 percent increase in the budget. Hammond said that increase wasn’t enough to cover newer vets from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and older veterans coming in for benefits.
Horsford said he made an unannounced visit to the new VA hospital a few weeks ago after complaints from veterans about the wait time and found there were positions that had been approved and funded by Congress that have not been filled.
“We are being provided a corrective action plan, meaning what steps they’re taking to post the positions, to get them filled. The administration building that is under construction will be completed in the next year to 18 months and then the hospital will be fully functional,” he said.
Veteran Carl Jones said he had a claim going for five years. “If in fact I die before my claim is completed and I’m entitled to it, my wife and my family are not entitled to it,” he said.
Horsford said by 2015 VA claims will be processed electronically. “The fact we’re using paper in 2014 to process the number of claims at the VA is unconscionable,” he said.
Bill Dailey, a 90-year-old World War II veteran who said he drove a motorcycle escort for the famed Gen. William Patton, said he’s half-blind and neither he nor his wife of 65 years can drive.
“Ten years ago if you were over 70 they put you on top of the list. I’m 90, I’m asking and begging for help and getting nothing,” Dailey said. “We lost over 400,000 men killed, not the ones wounded and I’m asking for help and I get nothing. I can’t drive and neither can my wife.”
When Nye Cannabis Coalition founder Michael Augustine praised the benefits of medical marijuana versus having to take hundreds of painkillers per month, Horsford was asked his stance on the issue. “I personally think this is an area where there should be reform because marijuana has not been proven to be as harmful as other prescriptions and related uses have been.”
On other issues, Horsford said President Obama decided not to impose a chained consumer price index for Social Security, which he opposed, which the congressman said would have cut annual increases in monthly benefits.
“I believe we should not be balancing our budget on the backs of our seniors and I will always fight to strengthen these types of investments that you have paid into,” Horsford said.
Nye County Democratic Party member Diane Southworth said the Affordable Care Act allowed her to have cataract surgery without a co-pay, she wouldn’t have a co-pay either for procedures like colonoscopies or a mammogram. She said her prescription costs are also going down.
Horsford said seniors on Medicare won’t be affected by the Affordable Care Act, they’ll also receive benefits like physicals and additional screening at no cost. They also receive additional funding to cover the Donut Hole for prescription coverage. Insurers can’t deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions and women will no longer be charged more for their coverage, he said.
Rhonda Van Winkle said the member pool Obamacare depends upon needs younger people that aren’t signing up. Horsford said over 30 percent of the new enrollments by the end of January were young people.
Richard Goldstein said Pahrump is the biggest town in Nye County and there isn’t a representative to help sign people up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Horsford said he will follow up on a request to the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange to have more navigators helping people enroll in the rural areas, particularly in Pahrump.
Pat Wall said Medicare isn’t paying for treatment at Neuropathy and Pain Centers of America. Patient Ed Stoner said he’s down to only two pain pills per day.
“Until five years ago the only treatment for this type of illness was copious amounts of medication,” Wall said, “which made you a walking zombie.”