A crowd of about 50 people turned out to listen to Congressman Mark Amodei at a veterans town hall meeting in Sparks.
“I’ve been in this job for 57 months now- too long to be the new guy but long enough to be part of the problem,” Amodei (NV-02) lightheartedly told the crowd at Friday’s meeting.
Ever since Amodei joined Congress in September 2011, he has advocated for veterans services and has helped raise the VA budget in the five years he has been in his government position. He also began hosting regular veterans’ town hall meetings in Northern Nevada, inviting the community to share their concerns.
Among those at the meeting were representatives of several agencies, veterans, key decision makers from Washington DC and Sparks City Council members Charlene Bybee and Ron Smith. Held at the Sparks City Council Chamber, Amodei kicked off the conversation to discuss TRICARE changes and Nevada’s active duty military/veterans issues surrounding it.
“As many of you well know about these meetings, there isn’t really an agenda. This is for you to talk about issues, suggestions, et cetera,” Amodei said. With representatives with the TRICARE regional office also in attendance, Amodei talked about how TRICARE works with active duty military personnel, how children age out of the program, and the differences in the two main TRICARE programs.
TRICARE, the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) worldwide healthcare program, is available to beneficiaries who served in the US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Coast Guard, US Air Force, NOAA, and Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service.
TRICARE Prime is the main healthcare program that is deemed the highest level of benefit at the lowest rate. With an annual enrollment fee of $526 a year per family on the Prime program, an active duty service member, retiree, or other beneficiary must live in a Prime Service Area. Amodei said that the core of Reno is not considered a Prime Service Area, but segments of Sparks are.
TRICARE Standard is the other option- even through there are no enrollment fees, monthly premiums, cost-shares, and annual deductibles apply.
Amodei acknowledged that some of the current issues are that there is a backlog of medical claims that are now being handled nationally and there is a doctor shortage (although feedback about the Reno VA Hospital has been positive overall). “I’m the first to recognize that the VA has some problems; the mission is growing and we will need more resources,” said Amodei.
One person in the audience agreed that there is an obvious lack of customer service in filing a claim now that it is being handled on a national level- instead of speaking to someone in the regional office, the claim gets sent to Wisconsin with no follow-up.
“Before I could talk to a human being and felt like I got heard,” the audience member said. To which Amodei agreed, “The VA made the decision that claims processing is a nationwide resource and they’ve got the computer stuff to do that. Here’s the problem- if no one really owns the service area, I think that’s a bad thing. We’ve sponsored some legislation to say ‘hey, you’re going to go back to the way you did it.’”
Another active duty serviceman said that his main issue with TRICARE is where legislature has drawn zoning lines. “If you live north of I-80 in Verdi/Truckee Meadows, TRICARE Prime says you have to go to a service provider in your area but there are no medical practices out there. I live on Satellite Drive and I cannot see my primary care doctor because of how the lines are drawn,” he said.
Amodei replied that his office has been interacting with the DoD on the zoning lines that seem to make no sense at all (except for as a way to save money by providing medical services to fewer people). “We disagree with the funding levels; in our neck of the woods, it looks like you drew a line right down the middle of the metropolitan area for reasons we can’t figure out,” Amodei said.
A couple of veterans in the audience also spoke out against “the 800-lb. gorilla in the room”, which is the great VA hospital in Reno but lack of parking and satellite offices. Department of Veterans Affairs Director Lisa Howard said, “We have a $200 million project of providing more care and expanding square footage for veterans. We’re always looking at space and opportunities for buildouts”. Howard also added that they were just approved to build a parking structure of multi-level garages to help easily access the VA hospital.
A main issue brought to Amodei’s attention are military servicemen who have been appointed to TRICARE doctors but then they don’t accept new patients, or waiting a month to see a doctor and then being told that they don’t accept TRICARE anymore.
Amodei and his staff took notes to follow up on these healthcare issues within Congress and are working to get a briefing scheduled in late autumn. He suggests that if anyone has influence within the Senate to voice their opinions on Nevada TRICARE, otherwise his staff is happy to follow up on their behalf.
For more information about Congressman Amodei and assistance resources for veterans, visit: https://amodei.house.gov/assistance-for-veterans/.