When Ally Brown's family moves to a new duty station, she spends the first six months filling out stacks of paperwork to set up health care for her two autistic sons.
Tyrone Parish struggled to get mental health care for a man in his husband's unit who was told he'd have to wait six weeks to speak to a counselor. Parish ended up taking the man to the emergency room to prevent him from hurting himself.
Kathryn Leonard waited weeks to see a primary care manager to get a referral for her daughter to see an endocrinologist. After the referral, her daughter had to wait another four weeks to see the specialist.
These and other spouses of local service members shared their health care and other concerns with Sen. Tim Kaine Friday during a roundtable discussion about issues facing Hampton Roads' military families at Thomas Nelson Community College. The event was one of two public meetings for the senator Friday.
Kaine, D-Va., is co-chairman of the Senate Military Families Caucus, along with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. The caucus is a bipartisan forum created to address challenges facing military families. Kaine's son is a Marine.
Several people expressed frustration with TRICARE, the health care program of the United States Department of Defense Military Health System. Some families waited two to three hours for prescription refills, had problems setting up care for special-needs children or were upset about what they said was general disorganization when it came to setting up appointments and trying to get referrals.
"The fact that it had to get to the point where a solider had to be taken to the ER so he wouldn't harm himself is unacceptable," Parish said of his recent experience. Others talked about services not covered by TRICARE, including service animals for disabled children and adults with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"If they can pay for a breast pump, they should be able to pay for a service animal," said Tracy Jennings, who is expecting a child soon.
Kaine asked the group if the health care system problems they've experienced were limited to posts in Hampton Roads, but many said they had similar experiences with TRICARE at duty stations across the country and overseas.
Brandi Ogren's husband's medical group helps provide care to local military families. Ogren said medical staffs have shrunk while the number of military personnel, retirees, dependents and some members of the Reserves has grown by leaps and bounds.
"We don't have the doctors. We don't have the nurses. We don't have the specialists needed to address these issues," Ogren said. She suggested more funding be used to bulk up the staffing. Others suggested a more uniform medical records system that did not require service members to have to confirm chronic health conditions at each new duty station.
Kaine said he'd work on breaking down barriers to make the health care system for service members more streamlined and easier for families to manage.
Service members' families also expressed concerns about trying to obtain credentials to work in other states as they moved from duty station to duty station. A pediatric dentist, Chickara Saunders had a difficult time switching her licensing over so she could practice in Virginia after her husband was stationed in Hampton Roads. Parish, who has multiple degrees with a focus on psychology, had trouble finding work in his field because he is not an American citizen.
"After filling out something like 150 job applications, the only work I could find is in retail," Parish said.
After the meeting, Kaine said he hadn't predicted that three-quarters of Friday's discussion would be about health care. "I've got a lot to think about as I leave this one," he said.
Tommisha Wilson said she enjoyed the roundtable discussion and appreciated that Kaine seemed really interested in the group's concerns.
"I think it's great to have an opportunity like this for our voices to be heard," Wilson said. "With everything else that's going on in politics, I'm glad he took the time to talk to us."
Daily Press reporter Dave Ress contributed to this report.
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