Veterans given a voice during VA town hall
By REBECCA BURYLO | Montgomery Advertiser, Ala. | Published: March 1, 2016
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — Persian Gulf War veteran Angela Witcher said she has suffered with Persian Gulf Syndrome symptoms for more than 25 years without receiving benefits from the Veteran Affairs. She feels as if her country has failed her.
In February, Witcher was able to voice her concerns directly to VA leadership, including new interim director, Paul Bockelman during a quarterly town hall meeting at Montgomery's Central Alabama Veteran Health Care System on Perry Hill Road.
Regional personnel were there to help Witcher the same day along with sharing some of the progress they have made since reports serviced two years ago of record-long wait times and medical malpractice.
"President Clinton passed a law that veterans who served during Desert Shield and Desert Storm who suffer from certain ailments that cannot be diagnosed by any other means, it's referred to as the Persian Gulf Syndrome and those veterans are to be paid," Witcher said. "Twenty-five years later, and I'm still fighting to be recognized for my disabilities."
Witcher said she suffers daily from migraines and joint pain, to the degree that she was forced to take an early retirement from her government job.
Despite the addition of the new VA clinic at Chantilly Parkway in Montgomery, Witcher says some of the old problems still exist saying the level of care was not where it needs to be. She claims her healthcare provider is intentionally trying to falsify her medical records.
"It feels like the more service connected you are, the more the process begins to take that service connection away from you," Witcher said. "The information in my medical records are not correct. The information that I am providing to my caregiver is not the information reflected in my medical records."
Randall Weaver, Md. deputy chief of staff for the VA was there to help Witcher move her claim from a long, drawn-out appeals process to having the original claim reopened the information reevaluated. It was also suggested, that the case be brought before a privacy officer to investigate.
Bockelman listened to each veterans' concern. The town hall meeting was his first public, media event since arriving at CAVHCS Feb. 8. He was brought to CAVHCS to bring stability to a broken system and shared with veterans the progress the VA has made.
"We've been without steady leadership for a while and we're happy to talk about advancement," Bockelman said. "I'm different than other interim. I'm not as time sensitive. I have no other responsibilities ... I'm here to help the organization stay focused."
He shared new construction projects are coming soon to the Perry Hill Road location. The specialty care, in-patient and emergency areas will increase by 7,000 square-feet. Dental and mental health will soon be finished moving into the new Chantilly location.
Since the Montgomery Regional Office (VBA) has gone to a completely paperless claim system last year, they were able to compensate 24,000 claims with 90 percent accuracy, a new record for the area.
In addition, over the last two years, the backlog for appointment wait times older than 125 days, decreased from 18,000 to 1,000 and those patients waiting for a decision on claim compensation results decreased from 248 days to 80 days, according to VA staff.
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