Veteran's care up in the air
A local veteran's services office is being inundated with concerns about who will provide their medical services and one official says it could take months for new services to start.
After community-based outpatient clinic Great Plains Clinic, PC in Dickinson chose not to renew its contract with Veterans Affairs, which expires May 1, officials have yet to announce alternative options.
"There will continue to be a veteran's clinic in Dickinson," said state Sen. George Nodland, R-Dickinson. "We are not closing down."
It is unclear why Great Plains did not renew the contract.
"It was our choice and it was a choice that we made," said Mark Grove, administrator for Great Plains. "It was a tough choice. We have nothing against the veterans, but it was a choice that we had to make for our own reasons, I guess I can't elaborate on that. Fargo can elaborate if they'd like."
Peggy Wheelden, public affairs officer for the Fargo Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the entity who will be deciding the new services, referred questions to Great Plains.
With no new location or alternative options officially announced, some feel they have been left in the dark.
Leslie Ross, Stark/Dunn County veteran service officer, said she has yet to be told of a "plan b" to advise the many veterans calling and stopping into her office expressing their concerns.
"Absolutely no direction's been given as to how or where care will be provided," Ross said. "I, as a representation of a very small representation of veterans, I am very concerned that we don't have a plan or any plan or direction.
"It is scary. I don't even know what to do. I don't even know what to tell a veteran who comes in here today who wants to get into VA health care."
Wheelden said the contracting department at the Fargo VA Medical Center set a proposal deadline for April 30.
"They do have some interest," she said, adding the proposed contract would be for five years.
However, setting up the new services by May 1 may prove to be a challenge.
"They will never be able to get that done by May 1, because when they do do that, what happens is it takes ... up to four months to get their computers and training and everything up to speed," Nodland said.
About 800 letters were sent to area veterans this week explaining that until a new contract is determined, a few options will be available for care, Nodland said.
The first option will allow a veteran to call the Fargo VA clinic to have an appointment set up with a health care provider of their choice in the southwest area.
"They will give an authorization to that clinic to pay for their services at the Medicare rate," Nodland said.
Wheelden said she had not heard of that information as of yet.
"They are finalizing the plans for access to medical care for our veterans beginning May 1," Wheelden said.
Another letter will be sent to veterans next week, outlining what to do if medical care is needed after May 1, she said.
Veterans also have the option of traveling to alternate VA clinics in places such as Bismarck, Fargo, Williston or Sturgis, S.D.
"It's a little cumbersome, but it's only short-term until they have another location," Nodland said.
Veteran Stanley Maixner of Dickinson said he began using the VA clinic last spring and loves the services he receives there.
"I don't know what I can do but hope, I guess," Maixner said.
Traveling farther to receive medical care may not prove easy for all.
"We're getting kind of old, some of us guys," Maixner said.