Veterans leave crisis center with answers

Army veteran Kevin Boyer has a story that many veterans can relate with. He has an appeal that has been idling for 18 months with the Department of Veterans Affairs and a separate claim that has sat unresolved for two years.

Boyer, who served in the Iraq War, was among the many veterans who attended the first day of the weeklong American Legion Veterans Command Crisis Center (VCCC) at the St. Louis University School of Law Clinic on July 15. Members of the Legion’s national staff, Department of Missouri Legionnaires, staff from VA facilities and volunteers from other organizations helped veterans get assistance with filing for VA appointments, grief counseling, benefits claims and enrollment in VA health care.

After meeting with a VA representative, Boyer believes he will receive approval immediately. “The American Legion has seemed to bring some people together so we can move forward,” said the married father of three. “I think The American Legion is doing a pretty good job with that. Essentially, they have gotten me to the VA officials who can do something.”

The resolution to the long delay will mean a lot to Boyer’s family. “The way the VA rep was talking, it sounds like they will be able to have me approved tomorrow,” he said. “If that’s the case, that’s a good feeling to leave here with.”

John Johnson, a Navy veteran from the Vietnam era, also left with a sense of relief.

Johnson has been dealing with a cataract issue for two years, which has grown to the point where he has blurred vision and is unable to work or drive. He visited the crisis center because he wanted an appointment sooner than the one scheduled for Oct. 20.

“After they reviewed the records, they said I’ve had all the measurements and tests done, so we’ll have a doctor review the records and call you back tomorrow for an appointment.”

Such success stories have been common at VCCCs in Phoenix, Fayetteville, N.C., El Paso, Texas, and now this week in St. Louis and Fort Collins, Colo. That’s the mission of these crisis centers, said Department of Missouri Commander Dennis Woeltje.

“With all the scandal and claims that are being made against the VA, we are here to clear things up and get things fixed. This is a system worth saving,” Woeltje said. “We can’t scrap the system. But we can fix it. These people need someone to listen to them and take care of the problems. And that’s exactly why we are here.”

After the crisis center concludes, the Department of Missouri will set up a crisis line so veterans can register their complaints, which the department will route to the proper channels. “We can’t just stop this and let it fall on the ground,” Woeltje said. “That’s what happened before when people just gave it lip service. That can’t happen again. This has to be fixed.”

The crisis center will be held through Friday at the St. Louis University School of Law Clinic, 100 N. Tucker Blvd., Suite 726. It will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, and 8 a.m. to noon on the 18th.