SHINNSTON, W. Va. – The American Legion hosted a town hall meeting in Shinnston on Monday night to learn how they can help veterans get better medical care.
The organization picked the areas around the VA Medical Centers listed as having the longest wait times according to an audit released by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The audit revealed the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center was 54 days for new patients seeking a primary care doctor, 86 days for a specialist and 96 days for mental health services.
Though the area around the Clarksburg VA has fewer patients than in other areas the American Legion is visiting, Verna Jones, Director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation for the American Legion National Headquarters was pleased with the turnout to Monday’s meeting.
“We’re just grateful that the veterans wanted to come out and share their story with us, that they trust the American Legion to advocate for them,” she said. “We want to be able to do this. Simply put, we just want to help veterans.”
The veterans gave their opinions and experiences in dealing with the VA Medical Center, some in full support, others with concerns about the quality of care. Issues they dealt with included the 96 day wait for mental health services — one of the highest found in the audit in this category — to difficulties in getting timely, accurate eye examinations and glasses which fit their prescription.
The American Legion compiled all of the issues the speakers brought up and will meet with representatives from the VA Tuesday morning to discuss how they can be resolved, whether they be appointments scheduled or canceled without proper notifications or services in the emergency room.
“One gentleman had something lodged in his throat and they had to sedate him until the next morning when a doctor came in, and several veterans talked about the emergency room and no doctor being there,” Jones said. “So we’re going to find why the emergency room isn’t operating as it should be and what needs to be done and how we can help advocate to get what needs to be done for the veterans here.”
After the meeting at the VA, the American Legion will set up a Veterans Crisis Center at Post 31 on 76 Bridge Street in Shinnston to help veterans work through their issues and get them the care they need through various services with multiple organizations coming in to assist.
Staff from the VA will be on hand to explain veterans’ situations to them directly and assist in setting up appointments for new patients.
“They’ll be able to actually look at, not necessarily their eligibility, but look at their applications to see if there’s anything missing in their applications and help them,” Beth Brown, Director of the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center said. “And also set them up for any medical appointments.”
The organizations at the Veterans Crisis Center will also work to help veterans receive retroactive benefits they have not already for whatever reason, if they are eligible.
Jones told the success story of a veteran who had driven to Fayetteville, North Carolina Crisis Center with his 11-year-old grandson to seek help, sleeping in his car during the week it was set up there.
“He came in, came to the Crisis Center, put him in front of someone with the VA, that was on a Tuesday,” she said. “On Friday, he came back and he said ‘I’ve been waiting, trying to get help and I’ve been in the car with my grandson and we’ve both been going to sleep hungry, but today I received an $11,000 retro check from coming here to this Crisis Center.'”
The hours of the Crisis Center will be noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
Staff members from the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center were present at the town hall meeting to answer any questions pertaining to veterans’ inquiries. One of the main ones being the cause of the delays.
Originally, the hospital said the numbers they have on record did not match up with those in the audit. However, once it was understood one organization was using prospective numbers — how long wait times were predicted to be in the future — as opposed to the retrospective — averages from the last month — it was clear where the statistics were coming from.
Since then, the hospital has made efforts to bring in more providers, especially those specializing in mental health.
“The numbers are coming down,” Brown said. “It’s going to take us a while to get to the level we’re more comfortable with. What we also have done is to look at any patient that might have an appointment greater than, say four months to see ‘Is that a new patient or an established patient?’ and if it’s a new patient, we’re working to get them in sooner.”