Dozens of veterans shared their experiences, frustrations and advice about dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs during The American Legion’s System Worth Saving town hall meeting July 14 in St. Louis.
Veterans pointed to appointment delays, a lack of leadership at the top of VA and personal stories of heartbreak. American Legion department service officers, a VA patient advocate and others encouraged veterans to keep fighting for the benefits they earned during their time in service.
Michael Saffold, Sr., a Grenada-era veteran, said a misdiagnosis by a VA doctor nearly cost him his leg after a car accident. When a VA doctor told him there was nothing other than ibuprofen that he could do for the pain in Saffold’s leg, the veteran contacted a VA nurse who had helped him previously. She advised him to come in immediately, and a different doctor ordered him into surgery because a blood clot placed his leg in imminent danger.
“If I had waited one more day for surgery, I would only have one leg,” said Saffold, who now walks with the aid of a cane.
“There are some very caring people in the (VA) organization. But the ones who do not care make the whole organization look bad.”
The American Legion, along with the VA and other organizations, has been operating week-long crisis centers for veterans and family members in the wake of the VA scandal. This week is the first time that the Legion has operated two simultaneously in different cities, St. Louis and Fort Collins, Colo.
Reginald Hill, an American Legion service officer and member of Post 444 in Missouri, advised veterans to “fight for your rights while being respectful” throughout the process, no matter how long it takes.
“Service officers will stand up and help you. After all, we’re veterans, too,” said Hill, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
Jack Massey, a Vietnam War veteran, praised the VA. In fact, he said, his doctor called him earlier in the day to check on him. “I’ve always been happy with the way that the VA has handled my issues,” he said. ”They have always worked in conjunction with me to fix the problem.”
The town hall meeting, held at the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis, preceded the Legion's Veterans Command Crisis Center. The crisis center is July 15-18 at the St Louis University School of Law Clinic, 100 No. Tucker Blvd., Suite 726.
Members of the Legion’s national staff, along with local Legionnaires, staff from VA facilities and volunteers from other organizations will assist veterans and their families. Services will include assistance in filing for VA appointment scheduling, grief counseling, benefits claims, and help with enrollment in VA health care.
The crisis center will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on July 15, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the 16th and 17th, and 8 a.m. to noon on the 18th.
Saffold plans on attending the first day of the VCCC.
“First of all, before tonight I didn’t know what The American Legion was,” he said. “I thought it was a place where old veterans sit around and talk. But after tonight, I know I have another resource that I know that I can reach out and touch. And that gives me a glimmer of hope. It’s helped a lot. This was a godsend.”