For a year and a half, meetings about Island veterans health care drew crowds expressing their outrage at the long wait for on-Island health care. But on Wednesday, about seven months after a contract was finally in place, the tone was quite different: instead of concerns there was mostly silence, and instead of outrage there was appreciation.
A previous contract between the Veterans Administration and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital expired several years ago, but the VA did not realize the contract expired until around 2008, when Island veterans started receiving bills for care. While a new contract was hampered by bureaucratic delays and personnel issues, Island veterans often had to go off-Island for care. A new contract was finally signed and went into effect in October 2012.
The dozen or so veterans at Wednesday’s meeting at the American Legion had few complaints, if any, about the new contract.
Providence VA medical center director Vincent Ng and public affairs officer Tom Antonaccio, joined by Dr. Monty Vanbeber, a doctor with the Hyannis VA clinic who has been working with Vineyard veterans to make them eligible for health care, and Dukes County veterans agent Jo Ann Murphy had to press veterans for complaints or questions. Dr. Vanbeber said during his weekly trips to the Vineyard, more than 130 veterans have signed up for the health care program, of which 78 are new patients.
“That’s good news for us and the veterans in this community,” he said.
Woody Williams, a veteran who had been outspoken about the need for on-Island care, reflected the change in tone. “I think things have really improved since you guys came down here,” he said, noting the changes have given veterans confidence in the system where they had none before.
“You don’t hear from me hardly at all anymore,” he added.
Mr. Williams said he was happy “as long as it stays like this and gets better.”
The VA representatives pressed for questions, and asked what they could do better. While there were a few specific questions and concerns, the sentiment seemed to be that things have changed for the better.
“Things have improved so much,” Tom Bennett said. “It’s obvious, numbers aren’t what they were the first time you came.”
“I can’t believe it, no complaints?” Ms. Murphy said.
To begin the meeting, Mr. Ng presented Ms. Murphy with a plaque honoring her for “generosity, selflessness and heartfelt commitment to the veterans on Martha’s Vineyard.”
Ms. Murphy, he said, is a “shining example for others to follow.”
The presentation was followed by applause and a “Hear, hear.”