VA director, veterans, politicians talk health care at Rockwell town hall

Published 6:03 pm Tuesday, November 5, 2019

ROCKWELL — Salisbury VA Medical Center staff members got an earful Monday night during a town hall about medical care organized by the American Legion.

Meeting at American Legion Post 112, VA staff, members of the American Legion and elected officials took questions about matters ranging from the price of care to whether some veterans can get care at all. American Legion members said Tuesday the town hall was one of many scheduled across the U.S. to help the VA health care system improve services.

Don Kluttz was among those in attendance. Kluttz said he’s had trouble trying to go to private doctors in Brunswick County through the VA’s community care program.

Salisbury VA Director Joseph Vaughn responded that the VA has had trouble trying to get enough participating companies in the program. Vaughn said there’s also a backlog of folks who want to sign up for community care — that is, the ability for veterans to receive some services through private providers instead of VA facilities.

When faced with questions about wait times at VA facilities, Vaughn said the Salisbury VA’s waits are comparable to what people see in the private sector. The latest data available through the Veterans Health Administration show the Salisbury VA completes 91.91% of its appointments — 58,968 of its 64,158 — within 30 days, he said.

Multiple people Tuesday asked why the VA had determined that their income was too high to receive services. When one man said his only income is through Social Security, Vaughn encouraged the man to reapply.

Another veteran, William Safrit, asked why he was sent to private hospitals for some care rather than services at the VA.

“I go to the VA system because veterans are supposed to be able to get the best care there,” Safrit said.

Vaughn said that he either wouldn’t be able to keep a neurosurgeon or a heart surgeon busy enough to justify their hiring or couldn’t pay enough.

But there were more dire concerns at Monday’s meeting, too. One woman said her husband had been sent home from the VA after a staffer determined that he was “in his right mind” but that she was struggling to take care of him, that he had multiple infections and that his kidneys were failing. Another man said medicine he is taking costs him $9,000 per month and that he is worried about what would happen if his insurance no longer covered it.

Some of the roughly one dozen attendees asked about policy changes, too, and state Reps. Harry Warren and Larry Pittman told them that they should direct their questions to their congressmen. Warren said state legislators are limited in what they can do because the VA is a federal agency.

Warren and Pittman, though, said they would help veterans navigate the system and put them in touch with the staff of local Congressmen Richard Hudson or Ted Budd.

Similarly, Vaughn said he wants to implement a program in which veterans who are new to the VA system are paired with someone who has gone through it before.

“We hope to make it easier to navigate,” Vaughn said.