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‘Impersonal bureaucracy’: Rep. Hudson hears veterans stories at Salisbury VA

SALISBURY — How does a “massive, impersonal bureaucracy” address the needs of individual people?

It’s a core question for the VA Health Care System, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson said Monday after a meeting with caregivers, veterans and representatives of the nonprofit advocacy group Independence Fund.

Hudson heard stories Monday about difficulty accessing care, accusations of malpractice and confusion surrounding the ramifications of the VA Mission Act, a bill whose goal was to give veterans greater access to health care in VA facilities and at private providers.

“That bureaucracy tells you what you can have and then makes rules for itself and then you have Congress change the rules every couple of years,” Hudson told the Post. “It’s a mess. … It’s about how do you make an impersonal massive bureaucracy address the personal individual needs of people here in the real world. And it’s hard because it’s not designed that way.”

Problems with veterans receiving care through the VA Health Care System, Hudson added, are an example of why Medicare-for-all-type plans wouldn’t work.

“Imagine what that would be like if they put us all in one big government system where they tell us what we can have,” Hudson said after Monday’s meeting. “What I want to do is try to bring market principles to bear and create flexibilities so that our local director knows what he needs to take care of people here but he’s hamstrung by all these federal rules.”

Brandon Faircloth, who served in the National Guard, spoke during Monday’s town-hall meeting about miscommunication from a VA staff person saying that he would be dropped from the caregiver program. Faircloth said he was told that he might be “discharged, terminated or retired” from the program, with all three words being used at various points.

Sarah Verardo, CEO of the Independence Fund, and VA staff members attributed those threats to miscommunication. And Verardo said her organization would help Faircloth through the appeals process if he were erroneously dropped. The intent of the Mission Act, VA staff and Hudson said, was to expand the caregiver program, not remove people from it.

The program pays for a caregiver to assist a disabled veteran in his or her home. Alternatively, the caregiver program provides money to a family member who has left his or her job to take care of a disabled veteran in the family.

Asked about miscommunication afterward, Salisbury VA Director Joseph Vaughn said that the VA held 15 hours of training with front-line staff when the Mission Act rolled out and that there were “secret shopper” calls made, too. Information gleaned from calls was then provided to local directors like Vaughn.

“I think there’s a really concerted effort to do some re-education with our front-line staff like our schedulers and nurses when new things like the Mission Act are rolling out so they have the right answers when the veteran asks or know who to contact,” Vaughn told the Post.

Faircloth said he didn’t want the caregiver benefit if he was no longer eligible, but that he was looking for stability in his life and didn’t want to be threatened frequently about being dropped.

VA staff and Hudson also heard from a former Army soldier who medically retired because of a number of service-related injuries. The man spoke about receiving an MRI in the Fayetteville area while still having an implanted device, which caused medical complications and burned nerves.

Gerardo called the incident a “massive failure,” and Hudson said he wants his staff to be “much more involved” in helping the man.

Joan Overcash, whose husband was in the Navy Seabees, described her battle to get care for her husband, who was awarded disability the day before he died. She brought a box filled with paperwork with her to provide a visual of the two years of work.

Summarizing his thoughts on Monday’s meeting, Hudson said there are different levels of frustration with the VA, one of which is getting approval for programs.

“The other problems are the time it takes to access care once you’re in the system,” Hudson said. “Every year I’ve been in Congress, we’ve given more money to the bureaucracy, but not enough is getting down here to Salisbury and Fayetteville and veterans that need the care.”

There were some compliments Monday mixed in with stories from veterans, caregivers and their significant others.

Verardo praised Vaughn for working to make the Salisbury VA more user-friendly and Hudson’s staff for “getting in the weeds” to help veterans. As veterans told their stories Monday, they noted that some of the problems they experienced were with other parts of the VA Health Care System and not the Salisbury VA specifically.

Post removed from meeting

As Overcash told her story, VA staff members pulled a Post reporter out of the meeting — to which Hudson had invited media — and asked questions about how the newspaper had been invited. VA spokeswoman Amanda Reilly said VA staff had not obtained consent forms for veterans in attendance before the town hall meeting and did not know representatives of the media would be there and told the Post not to re-enter the room until the meeting had concluded.

VA staff members did not ask representatives of the Independence Fund, who were posting veterans’ statements from the meeting on Twitter, to leave.

Reilly obtained a consent form from Faircloth after the town hall meeting.

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