Sinema Highlights Arizona Veteran’s Story, Urges VA to Shorten Referral Wait Times

Feb 5, 2020

WASHINGTON – Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema today spoke at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing and urged VA officials to identify roadblocks, increase efficiency, and continue shortening veterans’ wait times for referral care outside the VA. Sinema highlighted the story of Arizona veteran Derek Tope and his mother and caregiver, Sharon, who outlined their frustration navigating between VA and community care.  
“Since the 2014 Phoenix VA crisis, the VA has made steady progress improving transparency, wait times, and access to care, but more work needs to be done. I am extremely concerned about the time it takes for an appointment to be scheduled after theVA has referred a veteran for community care. The average delay in Arizona is about 25 days, and that is unacceptable,” said Sinema, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
While in the U.S. House, Sinema cosponsored the VA MISSION Act, which is now law. The VA MISSION Act helps veterans receive care when they don’t live near a VA facility or when the VA can’t provide them with timely or specialty medical care. Today’s oversight hearing focused on reviewing the VA’s implementation efforts for its network of community providers. Sinema has also led the charge to reform the VA by being an original cosponsor of the VA Accountability Act and by supporting the VA Choice Act, both of which were signed into law. Recently, Sinema launched her VA Services Survey to improve veterans care and services by hearing directly from Arizona veterans, active duty servicemembers, and their families. Arizona’s military community is encouraged to visit and provide their anonymous feedback.
During today’s hearing, Sinema told the story of Sharon Grassi and her son, Derek. Derek is an Arizona Army veteran and Sharon is his caregiver. Derek returned home with spine injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and more. Recently, Derek’s VA provider referred him to community care because VA did not have the specialist he required. When the order was reviewed within VA, it was modified without consulting the original clinician, and Derek was not assigned to the specialist, creating confusion, delays, and deep frustration for Sharon and her family. Sharon has praised the Phoenix VA and so many of the providers who have supported Derek but voiced frustration with the process. In a recent letter, Sharon wrote with relief because their petition to the Army to change Derek’s discharge to medical was granted and he will use Tricare services moving forward, and not VA. Sinema, in today’s hearing, underscored the VA has big problems when a caregiver and a veteran are excited to be out of its system and receiving care somewhere else.