Veterans express frustrations with communication issues at town hall meeting

(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Veterans in the Wiregrass spent several hours Tuesday afternoon talking to the director from the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.

About 30 veterans attend the town hall meeting at the Dothan Houston County Public Library. The town hall was designed for veterans to express concerns about their health care needs and get direct feedback.

"Hearing from the veterans is very important to continue to build the system and help make the system even better," said Dr. Linda Boyle, Director of Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.

There are about four to five thousand veterans in the Wiregrass area. Most veterans agreed the quality of health care service is not the issue - it's getting appointments and lapses in communication. Stanley Carter, a Navy veteran, said he drove from Newton to Dothan to see someone in person after getting the runaround on the phone.

"The VA has been good to me. I have had cancer, heart catheterization, stints. They've taken good care of me through the grace of God, but getting a hold of someone is the frustrating part of getting the medical help that we need," said Carter.

Veterans Affairs officials say they are working to streamline the phone system to make it easier for veterans to navigate. Much of the changes to the system will be completed towards the end of January, but the remaining phone upgrade with Automatic Call Distribution Center will take longer to implement.

Another concern from veterans is restrictions they face when trying to get a doctor,

"All the red tape. Trying to see a doctor and trying to get the care that we should have," said David Thompson, Vietnam Veteran.

During the meeting, issues with the Choice Card programs were brought up. The program is a temporary benefit that allows eligible veterans to receive health care in communities rather than waiting for an appointment with Veterans Affairs or traveling to a Veterans Affairs facility, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Some veterans said that impacted where they could be seen locally.

Boyle said it's a matter of veterans double checking eligibility before trying to use the card.

"The roadblocks are understanding how I can use the card and when I can use the card. When you get the letter saying you're eligible for choice, it says you need to call and make sure you're eligible where you are," said Boyle.

Halfway through the two hour meeting – some veterans expressed discouragement saying many of the complaints being discussed were brought up during last year's town hall meeting. At one point, one veteran left.

"You just get tired of it. It's the same stuff we went through a year ago. Same people. Most of them," said Thompson.

"Have we fixed everything from last year, no we have not, but we are going to," said Dr. Boyle.

Veterans gave members on the panel a fiery charge to get the job done,

"It's now time for someone to take that baton and carry it and be responsible with the responsibilities they've been given," said Carter.

The CAVHCS also has a survey for people who would like to give feedback about their V-A experience, so they can continue to make improvements. The link to the survey is here.

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