American Legion Post 915 Commander Harold Toney speaks during an American Legion System Worth Saving town hall meeting in Summit, Ill. Photo by Lucas Carter/The American Legion

Chicago veterans voice concerns about local VA

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Chicago veterans voiced their opinions during a recent American Legion System Worth Saving town hall meeting led by Past National Commander Marty Conatser and Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Deputy Director Roscoe Butler. Attendees included local veterans, Department of Illinois leadership, state congressional staff, Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital staff, and Legion national staff from Washington, D.C.

Dr. Steven Braverman, newly appointed director of Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, spent his first day on the job at the town hall meeting with local veterans discussing their concerns about the care and services received at the facility. Braverman, a physician and former Army medical center commander, brings nearly 30 years of experience caring for soldiers and other servicemembers to the Hines VA.

“My first priority is to learn about the organization and not take for granted that everything published on the Internet or the news is the absolute truth because there has been a lot of information that’s been negative in regards to Hines,” Braverman said. The hospital has had many documented challenges, but that’s nothing new for Braverman.

At the town hall meeting, he candidly described his time as the commander of the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas, when one of his doctors fatally shot 13 people and injured more than 30 others in 2009. Of the many lessons he learned from that experience, he said one of the most vital was the importance of community partnerships. After the incident, he worked with local hospitals outside of Fort Hood to assist in providing mental health care to his military and civilian employees.

One of his goals as the new director is to establish relationships with community organizations, especially veterans groups, and collectively discuss how to improve the Hines VA and welcomed the questions and comments during the meeting.

Feedback from Chicago-area veterans at the town hall focused primarily on improving communication with patients regarding scheduling appointments and wait times for medical services. Harold Toney, commander of American Legion Post 915, described his experience waiting an entire day for an MRI and that he just wants the staff to keep him informed.

“They don’t care about the people that are waiting,” Toney said. “There’s no communication, no informing the patients when there is a problem. I can understand if there is a delay and they tell me, then I can make the decision to wait or make another appointment.”

Another veteran asked the Hines VA staff if the hospital will increase their number of physicians, and Braverman confirmed the organization facilitated an orientation for new employees that morning.

But not all comments regarding the hospital were negative. Bernie Darmetko of Legion Post 96 said he’s had a very positive experience at Hines VA and has helped other veterans enroll in the system as well.

Braverman is the first permanent director hired in nearly two years. Since October 2014, each director has served in an interim capacity and Braverman said he thinks he’ll be able to provide a long-term strategy for the organization with a permanent leadership group.

“By building a leadership team that is permanent, it takes away doubt from the employees that what they’re seeing is going to just be changed in a short period of time and they’re not having to play ping pong with the priorities of the hospital and priorities of the leadership,” he said.

Roscoe, who facilitated the town hall meeting, assured the veterans in attendance that he believes Braverman understands the issues veterans face and can make changes.

“I believe if he’s up to the challenge and you’re willing to work with him, he can move mountains. It’s not the end of the process here tonight; I hear from him a commitment to work with you,” Roscoe said.