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As VA drama roils Washington, vets in Las Vegas like the care they’re getting

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The U.S. Senate has postponed a nomination hearing for Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, after allegations surfaced that he runs a hostile workplace, overprescribed drugs and drank on the job.

The hearing was to take place Wednesday before the Senate’s Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, is a member.

“Over the weekend, I was made aware of some serious accusations against Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson. If true, I have significant concerns about his ability to lead the VA, and that’s why I support the Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s decision to gather more information in light of these allegations,” Heller told News 3 in a statement.

President Trump said Tuesday he stands by Jackson, but that he will leave it up to him whether or not to withdraw. Politico reports Jackson denied the allegations in a private meeting with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.

Critics have said Jackson does not have the management background to run the 2nd biggest department in the federal government.

“Admiral Ronny Jackson was the wrong pick to start with. Recent revelations have only confirmed this fact,” says Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada.

The drama back in Washington is not front-and-center with local vets here. What they want is a department that works and their care to continue.

Robert White did six years in the U.S. Army. He moved from Tennessee, where he says the VA wasn't so hot. It’s a different story here, he says.

“Since I've been here in Las Vegas at this main VA hospital, I've got all the services I needed, health-wise,” White told me. “I feel better than ever.”

In our unscientific vet-on-the-street survey, we heard that from more than a few former sailors, soldiers and airmen.

I ran into Gary Meininger at US Vets, an organization that helps homeless vets get on their feet. He served three years in the Navy. I asked him how the VA here is doing.

“Experience here's been pretty good. They take good care of us,” he told me.

It wasn't always that way. Nevada used to have the worst VA backlog in the country.

RELATED | Veterans share health care concerns at town hall meeting

Not anymore.

“It's getting better. It's getting better,” says Heller, whom I met Friday at a Las Vegas barbecue for veterans. He told me our VA is headed in the right direction.

“When I first started five years ago getting on the VA committee and working with the regional office up in Reno, it was in terrible shape,” Heller said. “We fired the director -- fired the director and got a new one in.”

Veterans issues have been a priority for Nevada’s Washington delegation of both parties.

Back home, a positive trend is good news for the 145,000 vets who live in Southern Nevada. More than 80,000 of them use the VA health care system, which is 38 percent more than in 2011, making Las Vegas one of the fastest growing VA facilities in the nation.

Even with the growth, the VA says local wait times have not increased: they average almost five days for primary care, 12 days for specialty care and 3 days to get treatment for mental health issues, comparable, if not better than the private sector, says the VA.

At Veterans Village in Downtown Las Vegas, I met Vincent Davis, who served 16 years in the army. What does he want the next VA Secretary to do?

“Not to slow down the direction the VA is going in, cause I've seen them make more strides in the past year than I have in the past five years,” Davis says.

Locally, we have challenges: we have the fourth largest homeless vet population in the country. And the demand on our local VA system is running between five and seven years ahead of projections.

“I was a forklift driver in the navy,” says Alesia Rose, one of the 21,000 female veterans in Nevada. I met her at US Vets and asked her what she would tell the next VA secretary.

“More funding,” she said.

After all, we owe these folks everything.

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