Veterans from the Florence and Sumter areas voiced concerns to William Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center representatives Thursday morning at a town hall meeting at the Doctors Bruce & Lee Foundation Library in Florence.
Concerns about benefits, wait time for appointments, inability to promptly speak with VA representatives and Veterans Choice Program acceptance were among those shared by the veterans.
Commander Bob Eldridge of South Carolina Disabled American Veterans Chapter 11 said he attended the town hall meeting to represent the veterans in the Pee Dee area, and share their voice with the Dorn representatives.
Eldridge wanted representatives to know how veterans are treated on the phone and in person when dealing with Dorn. He and other disabled veterans are treated like second-hand citizens, Eldridge said.
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“I have waited four months to see a cardiologist, and when I saw the cardiologist there, I talked to him for about five minutes,” Eldridge said. “He never did any EKG tests, never do anything. And I could’ve still been having a heart attack; he wouldn’t have known.”
Eldridge said he thinks poor examinations could be due to doctors trying to see so many veterans in one day.
“These doctors start out really good, and their bosses are constantly on them to see so many veterans in one day,” he said. “You just can’t give good quality health care to a veteran when you’ve only see him for five to 10 minutes. It’s ridiculous. That’s an insult.”
Those attending were also concerned about a new Veterans Choice Program that is part of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in August 2014.
According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the act includes a $10 billion fund from which the VA must pay for non-VA care furnished as part of the Choice Program. Veterans who enrolled in VA health care as of Aug. 1, 2014, were supposed to be mailed a Choice Card. The final group of cards was supposed to be mailed in December 2014 and January 2015.
Veterans at the Thursday’s meeting complained that either they did not receive the card, or it was not useful.
“We were told by Columbia already that nobody really in South Carolina qualifies for the Choice Card,” Eldridge said.
Dwayne Rider, public affairs specialist for Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said the agency understands that there are inefficiencies within the system, and things are changing for the better. It is e always trying to improve its process, he said.
“A lot of what you heard today was sincere old feelings about things that happened in the past,” Rider said. “But those things have shown us, and I mean Dorn VA, as well as the VA nationally, what needs to be changed.”
Rider said the staff at Dorn is working to be more open with the right type of communication, and also be able get word out to the veterans and veterans’ service organizations such as the VFW, DVA and the Purple Heart Society.
Eldridge said the meeting was effective for those veterans who were there and able to address their issue.
“If you complain to them personally, they’re obligated, they’re going to make sure they respond to a specific issue,” Eldridge said. “But still, there are a lot of issues out there that are not going to be heard, not going to be seen. It’s ridiculous.”