Veteran Thomas Thotland got the runaround from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs when he sought treatment for a painful hip.
The ordeal began in July 2015 when Thotland, who served in the Army's 82nd Airborne, called his practitioner seeking relief for pain so severe he had trouble walking.
The soonest he could get in for X-rays and an MRI was mid-August. Then there was an injection that couldn't be done until October. Then there was surgery that couldn't be scheduled until January. Then there was physical therapy that couldn't be provided for a month.
In June, there was another injection that couldn't be scheduled until August. Then another injection that couldn't be scheduled until October.
"Calling the VA and getting in the phone system is no fun," Thotland said. "You get transferred to this phone to that phone. You get a recording. They don't call back.
"You don't want to call these people every day and ask them, 'Do you have another appointment? I'm still waiting and I'm thinking it's taking far too long to get some help.' "
Stories like that are common in the massive bureaucracy of the VA, the country's largest integrated health care system.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar highlighted the passage of a bill she said is designed to cut red tape and wait times for veterans like Thotland. The Faster Care for Veterans Act, which Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, directs the VA to create a pilot program that will allow veterans to use available technology to self-schedule and confirm appointments at VA medical facilities. President Obama signed it into law on Friday.
A June 2014 internal audit by the VA found that more than 120,000 veterans waited at least 90 days for health care appointments or never received them. In contrast, the average wait time for civilian appointments is 18 days.
The VA's 18-month pilot program will allow veterans to self-schedule, confirm and modify outpatient and specialty care appointments in real time through the internet. The technology allows veterans to immediately schedule appointments canceled by other veterans and schedule appointments 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"This is about people's lives, it's about their health and it's about treating our veterans with the respect they deserve," Klobuchar said at a briefing at the Hennepin County Government Center.
Flexibility in scheduling can be particularly important to rural and outstate veterans. Many must schedule appointments to coordinate transportation to the Minneapolis or St. Cloud VA hospitals.
"With programs like this where we can help the veteran access it through a computer in our office, they can pick appointments that are appropriate to the van schedule, appropriate to them and they can have family members assist them if they are unable to do it themselves," said Jason Marquardt, president of the Minnesota Association of County Veteran Service Officers and veterans service officer for Fillmore County.
Even with the new Republican administration, Klobuchar said she hopes the bipartisan nature of the bill will allow its implementation to move forward smoothly. The location for the pilot project should be identified within a year.
At a time when privatizing the VA is part of the national debate, Klobuchar said veterans she talks with want to continue their VA care, not dismantle it.
"They believe in the VA and they want to improve it," Klobuchar said. "That's what this is about."