FORT HOOD — Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced a plan to help the state’s veterans get care in a timely manner during an on-post news conference Thursday.
He outlined two specific actions while attending a groundbreaking ceremony for an active-duty medical center at Fort Hood.
The state plans to expand the Texas Veterans hotline, 1-800-252-VETS, with staffers trained to assist veterans with questions about the Veterans Affairs health care system. In extreme cases, he said these staffers will be able to get veterans to a “Texas Veterans Health Care Strike Force.”
“We’re going to help veterans understand their health care benefits and options,” Perry said.
The second course of action is to team up with public and private hospitals across the state to get veterans seen until the VA gets back on track.
“With VA approval, the providers can begin treating veterans until this crisis is resolved. It’s going to open the door for numerous new options for our veterans to receive care,” Perry said.
Baylor Scott & White was one of the health providers he listed as “willing to work with the VA to expand the number of treatment options for veterans waiting in line.”
A spokesman for the Temple-based health care system confirmed officials there are working with the governor’s office on this issue and offered help where they can.
“We already have a relationship with the Central Texas VA system and have been working with them closely,” the official said.
Sallie A. Houser-Hanfelder, director of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, also confirmed the VA’s working relationship with private facilities.
“We have been in discussions with Baylor Scott & White on taking on some specialty care,” she said Thursday. “Our acting chief of staff and our (acting chief of staff) for surgery have already had discussions and worked on the arrangements” for outside care of local veterans as needed.
Perry also referenced current legislation moving through Washington, D.C., which would allow the VA to send veterans who can’t be seen in a timely manner to other facilities.
“In Texas, we are working to take some steps to provide what assistance we can until this crisis is addressed,” Perry said.
Dr. James Rohack, chief health policy officer for Baylor Scott & White Health, said he’s monitoring the legislation.
“We have been active in ensuring that final legislation will have key components to ensure the objective to have veterans seen and cared for in the private sector,” he said.
The idea for the “strike force teams” was discussed during a meeting of the state Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee in Houston on Thursday.
The teams would be similar to ones set up in 2012 to deal with disability claims backlogs at VA facilities in the state.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who chairs the committee, said she asked the Texas Veterans Commission to create a plan within the next two weeks for the new teams. At Thursday’s hearing, Georgia Barraza told the panel about delays her father, George Barraza, 59, encountered in trying to get medical care at a VA facility in Houston. She said her father died in April as he waited for a June appointment to get treatment for liver cancer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.