After an unannounced visit Friday afternoon to the Belleville Veterans Affairs Clinic, U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart said the veterans outpatient clinic is understaffed and has outgrown its space.
"They're desperately short of space here," Enyart said, after leaving the federal veterans clinic. "They're handling 10,000 patients a year here and they just don't have the room to operate effectively. So I think we certainly need to help the VA find some appropriate space. We have a huge veteran population here. The metro-east has the largest concentration of veterans of anywhere in the state. So I think that's critical that we get that resolved."
Enyart, D-Belleville, is serving his first term in Congress. He is running for re-election this fall against Republican Mike Bost, of Murphysboro, and Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw, of Carbondale. Enyart is a 35-year member of the military who now serves on the House Armed Services Committee and has recently been touring VA clinics in Marion and Carbondale over the past few weeks after reports of a service delays within the VA department.
A recent investigation has revealed a backlog of veterans who have not received care and more than 1,000 veterans have died in the past 10 years while waiting to receive care. U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned last month.
Enyart said his he spoke with veterans and those workers at the VA Clinic at 6500 W. Main St. in Belleville and found at least a 120-day lag in paperwork for processing vacancies. He said addressing that issue would help bring in more physicians to attend to veterans waiting for care.
"We need to get that pared down," Enyart said. "We need to be able to get these folks hired and on the job sooner rather than later."
Enyart also said he has been aware of the backlog for years as the number of men and women in the service has increased due to recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while older veterans of the Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II continue to need care. In May 2013, Enyart introduced the Veterans Backlog Reduction Act to reduce the backlog of disability claims for veterans.
Troy resident Jim Harrington is Vietnam War veteran who has been receiving care from the VA since 1970. He visited the Belleville VA Clinic Friday and said although he has not had any problems with receiving care, the 66-year-old is upset that other veterans have been forced to wait.
"It bothers me because I feel that any of us that has been in the service are all in the same boat and we should all get the same treatment and we should all get the same level of treatment," Harrington said.
"It's really aggravating when there's somebody out there the same as I am that's a veteran and if they're not getting the care they need that they're entitled to. That's a big concern and it should be a concern to everybody."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.