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SEOUL — If you’re getting ready to get out of the Army, local medical officials have news that can take some of the hassle out of the transition.

The 121st General Hospital has increased the number of appointments available for Veterans Affairs physicals, which are required if a soldier intends to claim any service-related disability.

And with the recent authorization to hire a full-time staff member to do the physicals, officials here hope to expand the program to all services in upcoming months.

Based on staffing, the 121st has been able to give physicals to only about 15 to 20 soldiers per month as part of a joint agreement between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, according to Capt. Art Mathisen, chief of clinical support.

That meant many soldiers had to wait until they returned to the States before beginning the VA evaluation process, said Tiffany J. Lassen, civilian officer in charge of the VA Benefits Delivery at Discharge Center on Yongsan Garrison.

And because troops are allowed to begin the process six months before discharge, the shortage of appointment time here affected the overall claims process, possibly delaying benefits by months, Lassen said.

After she brought the issue to the attention of 8th Army officials recently, commander Lt. Gen. David Valcourt directed the clinic to find a way to increase the number of appointments immediately.

Mathisen and Lt. Col. Craig Mears, chief of the Department of Medicine, said they were able to juggle internal resources to boost the number of physicals to 30 per month starting in July without affecting day-to-day patient services.

In an average month in South Korea, about 150 soldiers separate from the service and about 25 retire, Lassen said. Since August 2004, about 275 soldiers were unable to take care of their VA physicals in South Korea, she said.

Part of the problem, according to the 121st staff, is that the VA physical sometimes takes up to three hours — far longer than a normal separation physical.

Mathisen said the recent green light on funding to hire a full-time staff member to conduct the VA physicals is a big step toward better handling of the load — but hiring that staff member could take several months.

“The long-term goal is to serve even more to meet the demand of all services for VA physicals,” he said.

He said he hopes a full-time employee will be able to serve 60 to 75 customers per month.


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