LACONIA — First District Congressman Chris Pappas met with VA community care providers on Thursday and heard about the hurdles veterans and their care providers face, in their efforts to give and receive effective medical treatment.
When veterans need health care that the VA cannot provide, they can obtain services through community care providers. Gate of Life Acupuncture and Wellness in Laconia contacted Pappas’ office because they said they were not receiving payments from the VA in a timely manner for treating veterans for a variety of health issues.
Kathy Twombly, the acupuncture practitioner and massage therapist who runs the Main Street business, said the stalled payments were not only creating a financial hardship, but that billing system obstacles were interrupting the care veterans needed.
“It took three months to get the first payment and represents thousands of dollars,” Twombly said.
Once veterans get a referral for acupuncture, they are allowed 12 visits within 45 days, then eight visits within 83 days and then eight more over 173 days.
Gretchen Brown, who handles the billing for Twombly and a number of other acupuncture practitioners, told Pappas the claims processing software called Electronic Claims Adjudication Management System (eCAMS) that the VA chose to modernize the processing of claims received from community providers outside of the VA’s Community Care Network doesn’t work.
Among the problems, she said, is the date when the specific number of visits is approved keeps changing without rhyme or reason, often resulting in a practitioner treating a patient and being unable to get paid. She also faulted the referral process for taking too long.
Pappas, who is chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has written a letter to Richard Stone, the Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration, calling attention to the problems and requesting answers to questions about the outstanding claims.
Bob Woodard told Pappas he served in Vietnam, spent 30 years in the Navy, and was diagnosed with cancer that ate away his jaw.
After reconstructive surgeries, “the pain was so bad that as a 68-year-old man I would cry,” he said. He was taking 32 prescriptions medications daily to try and ease his suffering, he said.
Within just four treatments at Gate of Life Acupuncture and Wellness, he said that he was able to stop taking narcotics as he no longer suffers the pain that he used to.
“I can garden now. Go out and walk and take care of my granddaughter. I feel great,” he said.
Cameron Brennan of Alton, said he served four years in the Army, including two tours in Afghanistan. He injured his back falling off a fast rope coming out of a helicopter and later sustained a traumatic brain injury.
“The pain turns you raw and makes you grumpy,” he said. He was prescribed narcotics to treat his pain but said since starting weekly acupuncture treatments it has eased and he has jettisoned his prescriptions.
Another veteran recounted that after twice breaking both ankles in parachute jumps he has been prescribed three different bilogics by the VA that were costing $60,000 a month that he said left him feeling like a zombie.
Twombly was willing to complete the paperwork necessary for him to begin treatment.
“She saved my life and my family,” he said.
After hearing repeated stories from veterans at the forum of how her treatments had helped ease physical pain, anxiety, PTSD and the side effects of chemotherapy, Twombly teared up and said she was humbled.
“I try and provide a comfortable and safest place possible for people to tell their stories. It’s a testament to the medicine. It does work,” she said.