Rep. Bustos talks to veterans in effort to improve VA services

MOLINE — After serving in the Vietnam War as a medical corps man, U.S. Army veteran Clayton Peterson suffered the effects of Agent Orange — the powerful herbicide used by U.S. troops to wipe out thick stands of forest and foliage used by enemy troops as cover.

Mr. Peterson credits the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics for saving his life.

"I am 100 percent disabled. I owe my diabetes, my heart (problems), and my prostate cancer, all to Agent Orange," Mr. Peterson said. "I feel good about life, everything is OK. The VA has been my lifesaver. I did not know I had a heart problem until I went for a regular exam. The cardiologist said I would have a heart attack soon."

But with limited medical service and choice of physicians, Mr. Peterson relied on his private medical insurance as a retired U.S. postal worker to expand his coverage.

"I wanted to be able to choose my cardiologist, rather than go to one of the only places the VA does open heart surgery," Mr. Peterson said. "Certain illnesses have to go to certain hospitals. The Iowa City clinic does kidney transplants; the burn units are in Texas. I chose a doctor out of Loyola University because my insurance would pay for it. But the VA discovered (the problem.)"

Mr. Peterson said he will begin radiation treatments for his cancer next month, again using a private doctor.

"I like to stay local, and I like to choose my doctors," he said.

In her ongoing effort to assist America’s active-duty service members and veterans, Rep. Bustos makes it a point to visit with those who have served and find ways to make the system better.

On the eve of Memorial Day weekend, Rep. Bustos met with seven local veterans Friday morning in a roundtable discussion at Western Illinois University Quad-Cities campus in Moline.

"Almost every piece of legislation I write is based on what we learn at home," Rep. Bustos said. "That’s why it’s so important when I’m not out in Washington, that I’m talking to people who can share their hopes and dreams with me and we can address some things legislatively.

"These are people who have lived through Vietnam, the Iraq War — who deal with the VA as a regular part of their lives. I want to know from them what is working and what is not working."

Joining Rep. Bustos and Mr. Peterson in the discussion were U.S. Army veterans Matt O’Brien, Barbara Sennett, Joe Ramos, Charlene Griffin; Air Force veteran Zach Almquist; and Marine reserve veteran Mike Malmstrom.

To address concerns like those of Mr. Peterson’s, Rep. Bustos supported the VA Mission Act of 2018, which will expand private health care coverage to nine million veterans. As a result, veterans will be able to access care in their own communities, and improve scheduling for appointments outside of the VA health care system.

Rep. Bustos also has supported the issuance of veteran ID cards, making it easier for veterans to verify their military service.

"As a result of this long war we’ve had, there are more veterans requiring treatment. This war has put more stress on the system," Ms. Griffin said. "There are more retirements. We have more people out there who are eligible for veteran’s benefits without the money being put in to support them."

Rep. Bustos said she was told wait times for psychiatric patients were too long across the country.

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