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VA St. Louis Health Care System leaders respond to local veterans’ concerns

Lara Hamdan
St. Louis Public Radio
Michael Crittenden (left) and Keith Repko (right) addressed concersn raised by local veterans.

A recent three-part series on local VA healthcare included a lot of criticism of the Department of Veteran Affair’s healthcare services.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh addressed the criticisms raised by local veterans with representatives from the VA St. Louis Health Care System.

 “We’re not perfect…we have come a long way but we’ve got a long way to go,” Keith Repko, medical center director at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, said.

Four years ago, the St. Louis VA was among the lowest in the nation when it came to access for veterans.

Michael Crittenden, M.D., chief of staff at the VA St. Health Care System, said one of the main changes the VA addressed was access to primary care and mental health, and medical technology.

“We worked very hard to improve and make our access as good as it can be,” Crittenden said. “Every piece of diagnostic equipment that you would find at [Barnes Jewish Hospital], [Missouri Baptist Medical Center] or [Saint Louis University], you will find here.” 

Repko said the St. Louis VA expanded its services by a third to better meet the needs of veterans. They hired over 800 staff members, including frontline providers, among them doctors and nurses. They are still looking to hire more primary care physicians.

 “Now we’re one of the leaders in the VA as far as lowest wait times and being able to get veterans in,” he said.

Repko said the erosion of trust between veterans and the VA happened due to the VA “losing focus.” He said the VA is held to a higher standard than their counterparts.

“When we’re dealing with veterans, who are the heroes of our citizenship, and we’re dealing with tax-payer money, we need to be held to a higher standard,” Repko said. Because the standard is higher, he said the VA is under more scrutiny.

“Part of that means we’re criticized for things that are happening everywhere else in the United States outside the VA, but it comes to light more in the VA because we’re more transparent,” Repko said. 

Both Repko and Crittenden believe that the St. Louis VA has tremendously improved their services to veterans and are looking forward to further advancing their care. 

“I think there are a lot of things to be proud of and I think there are things I’m happy to brag about for our VA,” Crittenden said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.