Legion crisis centers help 1,800 veterans

Since early June, The American Legion has assisted nearly 1,800 veterans and their family members affected by delays in accessing VA health care by setting up a Veterans Crisis Command Center at Legion post’s in Phoenix, Fayetteville, N.C., and El Paso, Texas.

Members of the Legion’s national staff, along with local Legionnaires, staff from VA facilities and volunteers from other organizations are on hand at the crisis centers to provide help with medical appointments, benefits claims, bereavement counseling and other services to veterans and their families.

Ralph Bozella, chairman of the Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force, wasn’t surprised by the great turnout at the first-ever Veterans Crisis Command Center put on by the Legion in Phoenix. "People know we’re here to help them solve their access problems, their enrollment problems, their claims, and also with counseling," he said.

"It’s a terrible situation (with VA), but a lot of times it takes almost a disaster to happen before people pay attention to a huge problem. This structure was not working. But we have the greatest opportunity I’ve seen in the last 20, 30 years for the VA to turn around right now, because everybody now is aware."

Douglas Chapman, a veterans service center manager for the Veterans Benefits Administration regional office in Winston-Salem, N.C., said he and his staff were able to complete decisions, in one day, in favor of several veterans’ benefit claims while they waited at the crisis center. "It’s been a wonderful partnership with The American Legion," he said. "We’re getting a lot of questions answered and a lot of decisions done while we’re here. It’s important to us to hear the veterans, sit face-to-face, and answer questions and concerns that they have."

The Legion plans to operate such centers throughout the summer in several cities affected by delayed VA health care, including Colorado and St. Louis.