Vet's daughter tries to get VA to build hospital in Kingman

A Golden Valley resident has undertaken the task of convincing federal officials a veterans hospital should be built in Kingman.

Crystal Rainwater said she had problems getting care locally for her 72-year-old father, whose name she asked not be used for privacy reasons.

Private doctors have treated him for diabetes and inflammation of the stomach lining, conditions not related to his military service.

"I first filled out an application a year ago and sent it to the home office in Atlanta, Georgia," Rainwater said.

"They forwarded it to Phoenix and I got it back with an appointment there, but the letter did not arrive until two days after the appointment date."

Rainwater said she was unable to get her father enrolled with the Kingman Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), which is operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, because of federal budget considerations.

Rainwater has since contacted the office of Sen.

John McCain, R-Ariz., for help.

In turn, McCain's office contacted the VA office in Phoenix and asked for an investigation of the matter.

Patricia McKlem, chief executive officer of the VA office in Prescott, responded in a letter dated March 29, 2002.

A portion of that letter reads:

"We established our CBOC in Kingman in 1998 and it is staffed by two full-time primary medical care providers.

Because of the large (and growing) veteran population in Mohave County, we also opened a CBOC in Lake Havasu City in 2000.

"Despite establishing two CBOC's with four providers in Mohave County, we are not keeping pace with demand.

Currently, the Kingman CBOC cares for over 2,500 veterans.

The usual limit in the VA for two providers (one physician and one physician assistant) is 2,000.

We were forced to close the Kingman CBOC to more veterans until we have the resources to staff it properly."

Rainwater said she is gathering signatures on petitions in an effort to get a VA hospital built in Kingman.

She has forwarded one petition containing 250 signatures to McCain's office in Tucson.

That petition was received, according to Rebecca Hanks, press secretary for McCain's Washington, D.C., office.

"Sen.

McCain is looking into the matter and will do what he can in compliance with regulations of the Department of Veterans Affairs," Hanks said.

There are three VA hospitals in Arizona, in Prescott, Phoenix and Tucson.

Rainwater said her father's condition is stable but that his future is uncertain.

If he needs emergency care, he could be admitted to Kingman Regional Medical Center, but the VA would not pay for it, she said.

"The petition drive was my idea to show how much a VA hospital is needed here," Rainwater said.

"I don't need a set amount of signatures to get this before the state Legislature, and I'm not trying to get a bill passed.

I just want Sen.

McCain to know what is needed here."

Rainwater said she also contacted the office of state Sen.

Ruth Solomon, D-Tucson, and is seeking her support.

"Sen.

Solomon has talked to Crystal and told her she will lobby for a VA hospital in Kingman," said Nikki Amberg, communications director in Solomon's office.

Frank Cimorelli, VA public affairs officer in Prescott, said federal money has been authorized that will permit raising the ceiling on the number of veterans who can be treated at the Kingman CBOC.

But he was not certain how much money is coming or when the patient cap will be raised.

"Community based outpatient clinics and access to care quickly is what the VA is all about," Cimorelli said.

"In the private sector, medical equipment is now so sophisticated that the need for inpatient beds does not exist as it did 20 years ago, so what you find is that health care in general is designed to get out and serve the population where it is.

"I don't see a future hospital in Kingman.

The trend is not to build hospitals, but clinics where patients have easy access to care."

Tom Murray, Veterans of Foreign Wars state service officer in Kingman, said there are about 28,000 veterans in Mohave County.

He said there are two important stipulations as to whether VA will pay for care at a hospital such as KRMC.

It must be for a service-connected disability and admission must be approved by VA.

If an emergency admission for Rainwater's father should become necessary, it should be of the shortest duration with the patient transferred as soon as possible to a VA hospital in Prescott or Phoenix, Murray said.

"If a veteran has no insurance whatsoever including Social Security and no means to pay, the VA provides outpatient emergency care," Murray said.

"This is for low-income veterans who must be registered in the system and have seen a VA doctor within the last 24 months."

That outpatient care is for service- or non-service connected health problems, he said.

Russell Smith, commander of American Legion Post 22 in Golden Valley, said he believes a VA hospital could be built in Kingman.

"We certainly have enough veterans here with three VFW posts, two American Legion posts, plus many veterans who don't belong to either but still use the Veterans Hospital,"

Smith said.