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More patients at VA Puget Sound spurs construction and new initiatives

Local Veterans Affairs officials met with reporters this week to talk about some of the steps they're taking to improve accessibility and quality of care for veterans. 

One of the Seattle VA's new initiatives is to help veterans deal with chronic pain -- a problem that can often lead to opiate dependence and addiction. Another critical initiative addresses the 11 percent growth in VA Puget Sound's patient load. 

Tim Dawson is VA Puget Sound's director of pain management. He says the VA is working to reduce the use of high dose opiates to treat non-cancer pain at the Seattle and American Lake clinics. 

“The foundation of this transformation is education," Dawson said. "Historically, primary care providers have not had a lot of training in pain medicine. For instance, when I was in medical school, we had no training in pain medicine. So we’re starting there by training providers and patients."

Patients and physicians can now watch videos and use phone apps to help self-manage their pain and to better understand the risks of using opiates. Dawson says they’re also encouraging patients to use complementary pain management strategies like acupuncture, yoga and meditation. 

The VA has had some success in reducing wait times for appointments. To keep up with Puget Sound VA's ever growing patient load, they’re adding a new mental health research and treatment facility along with an urgent care center. They’re also building a clinic in Bremerton. 

The latest numbers from the VA show nearly 90 percent of patients can get an  appointment within 30 days. Those who can’t are often referred out to non-VA doctors. 

More than 35,000 patients have been referred to non-VA providers through  the Veterans Choice program since November 2014. That process so far has provento be rocky and confusing for both providers and patients. 

Copyright 2021 KUOW. To see more, visit KUOW.

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