Tim: Improve care for SD veterans

Tim: Improve care for SD veterans

SIOUX FALLS–South Dakota’s veterans and their families have earned the best care and support possible, Tim Bjorkman said Wednesday, July 11.
That’s not always what they are getting now.
Tim said he vows to work for nothing less in Congress. He met with Larry Zimmerman, the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs, at the Sioux Falls VA Health Care Center on Wednesday, July 11.
“Secretary Larry Zimmerman graciously invited me to this briefing of the role the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs plays in serving our veterans,” Tim said. “I was impressed with the efforts of Secretary Zimmerman and his staff and their sense of service to our state’s veterans.”
Three issues stood out after the 90-minute meeting. Tim said he will raise a voice on all three during this campaign.
He said he will work to reduce the length of time for appeals to be heard on veterans’ claims. It can take up to seven years for a veteran to get a final decision.
That is simply unacceptable, Tim said.
Zimmerman said there is a plan to reduce the appeal process to 30-, 60-, 90- and 120-day periods and he supports that reform. Tim said he will support changing to that, especially after Erin Bultje, a program manager who advises veterans on appeals, said some veterans grow old and even die before a decision is reached.
Tim said he also supports fully funding a law passed by Congress to cover the gap in care-related bills for caregivers of veterans who served before Sept. 11, 2001. The law was passed, but no funding source created to close the gap between bills and money provided by Medicare and private insurance coverage.
Tim said he will seek to ensure Congress puts its money where its votes were. Caregivers play a crucial role and must be supported. There are 267,000 South Dakotans with ties to the military, either as those in the military now, veterans and their families. All deserve this coverage, Tim said.
He also wants to see improvement in the Veterans Choice Program, which is supposed to pay community health care providers if they provide services to veterans. All too often, the providers are not being paid and they then deny service to veterans.
Zimmerman, Bultje and Heather Bullerman, the claims officer supervisor in Sioux Falls, said they are seeing improvements in Choice, but realize it has let veterans down in the past.
Zimmerman said while the state department does all it can for veterans, some counties only have part-time veterans officers, which means assistance can be at times difficult. He said adding 14 full-time staffers to his department would be a major improvement.
Bultje said the agency has focused on working to reduce veteran suicides. Six South Dakota veterans have committed suicide so far this year, and the number has been tragically high in recent years.
South Dakota Joining Forces serves veterans, members of the military and their families to help them find the help they need, at times in an emergency setting. They have increased outreach efforts and work closely with county and tribal veterans officers.
“The hardest thing they do is walk through the door,” Bultje said.”We’ll do the rest.”
Tim said he admired the efforts of Zimmerman, Bultje and Bullerman, all veterans.
“That’s some of what I did as a small-town lawyer,” he said. “Helping people navigate the shoals of life.”
Tim said he will be an advocate for veterans in Congress. It’s a personal issue for him, since three of his sons are veterans who served during the Iraqi War era. He said he knows many other South Dakotans who served their nation, and they must have the full support of their government.
“We have to start paying more attention to make sure we’re serving our veterans as faithfully as they served us,” he said.