AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The country was shocked two years ago by major problems and delays at veterans hospitals. Studies showed that patients were often waiting months for appointments and that a few even died before they could even see a physician.
On Thursday, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs came to Maine to say those problems have gotten a lot better, but there are still improvements to be made.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald told the Maine Military and Community Network in Augusta that he is committed to making the Veterans Administration have "the best customer service in the federal government."
He said the changes made in the past two years have made a big difference in quality and availability of service at the hospitals.
"Not long ago," said McDonald, "we had a backlog of 600,000 disability claims more than 125 days old. We added staff adjusted some policies and we designed and implemented an automated digital claims system. And today the backlog is just a fraction of what it was. It is down almost 90 percent."
Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation agreed things had improved, but said the VA’s problems are not all fixed yet.
"Progress definitely has been made, but I think we have a long ways to go," said Sen. Susan Collins. The senator cited problems hiring enough staff, and a lack of medical specialists among the shortcomings at the VA hospitals.
Collins did praise the VA for making progress on the issue of homeless veterans.
Sen. Angus King said he is encouraged by the progress the VA has made, and pointed to the use of new technology as a positive sign. However, King also said it was going to take more time to resolve all the issues.