Three members of The American Legion's System Worth Saving Task Force follow up with local veterans at Legion Post 205 in Augusta, Ga., after a town hall meeting that focused on the quality of VA health care. (Photo by Marty Callaghan)

Legion hears from vets about VA care

At a March 10 town hall meeting in Augusta, Ga., local veterans shared their concerns about the quality of VA health care they are receiving at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. The facility came under scrutiny last year after three of its patients died because of long waits and delayed care in the hospital’s gastrointestinal program.

About 70 people attended the meeting that was hosted by American Legion Post 205 in Augusta and facilitated by members of The American Legion’s System Worth Saving (SWS) Task Force.

Jacob Gadd, the Legion’s deputy director of health, explained that SWS teams, since 2003, have visited about 15 VA medical centers per year to evaluate the quality of health care that’s being provided to veterans and their families.

"This is our primary health-care evaluation tool for really understanding how VA is delivering care," Gadd said. "But it’s nights like tonight, at a town hall meeting, where we get to directly hear from you on that level of care. So our agenda for tonight is yours."

Mentioning that a previously scheduled meeting in Augusta had been cancelled because of severe winter weather, Gadd said, "But we promised you that we would come back, so here we are."

Veterans brought up a variety of issues about their treatment at the Norwood center: scheduling delays for specialty care treatments, problems with obtaining service dogs, and complaints about hip replacement surgery and other medical treatment.

One woman veteran, who is a member of The American Legion Auxiliary, described her difficulties in seeking timely treatment for her husband’s wounded foot caused by diabetes. "You’re going to have problems," she said. But after she contacted the VA facility’s patient advocate, "they fixed the problem."

Several veterans raised concerns about the quality of eye care at the VA medical center. Complaints were voiced about delayed deliveries, prescriptions that were too strong, and VA’s refusal to pay the cost for transitional lenses.

Another Vietnam-era veteran noted that Physical Evaluation Board services used to be available at every VA hospital, but those services have been curtailed.

One woman talked about the difficulty that her 90-year-old father, a World War II veteran, was having in proving that he actually served in the U.S. Army. Referring to the treatment her father had received from VA staff, she said, "There is good staff and there is bad staff."

A VA retiree with serious health issues, who worked more than 30 years helping veterans, received a standing ovation from the audience for her service. She described the difficulties she has encountered in seeking VA benefits.

Besides Gadd, SWS team members Rev. Daniel Seehafer and National Field Representative Jennifer Colaizzi participated in the meeting, as well as Department of Georgia Commander Lynne Rollins and Department Junior Vice Commander Dennis McClendon. Other attendees included Post 205 Adjutant Robert Taylor, Department of Georgia Sergeant-at-Arms James Whelan and VA Voluntary Service Representative Fred Zamora.

Several staff members from the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center also attended, including the facility’s patient advocate.