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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The Veterans Administration is improving its services to an increasing number of former U.S. servicemembers but more streamlining work is needed, the Veterans of Foreign Wars commander said last week.

“A long time ago, if you talked to people after the Second World War, the VA was a place where destitute veterans who were monetarily unstable went to die,” said Edward S. Banas, a Vietnam War era veteran. “The impression that the VA gives now has turned around 180 degrees. They are forward thinking. They are service-oriented, and the veteran is their customer and they know it.”

Banas, touring the Pacific, is to stop in Thailand before heading to Germany. About 13,000 VFW members are in the Pacific, more than 1,000 of them in Angeles City in the Philippines, he said.

While at Yongsan Garrison, he again lobbied for changing how VA services are funded, in effect giving the agency a higher funding priority and fewer competitors for the pot of federal money from which it’s funded.

In South Korea, Banas recounted testifying to Congress in March that since 1996, the number of enrolled veterans has increased about 150 percent but funding for the VA has increased just 50 percent. Consequently, he contended, veterans have had to wait longer to see specialists, some health care is rationed according to income levels and medication co-payments have increased.

Banas said the VFW is pushing for a seamless transition of records from the Defense Department to the VA. The VFW would like to see servicemembers’ medical records transmitted electronically rather than via stacks of files, which would result in clearer documentation of medical problems.

So far, the proposal has been mired in bureaucracy, Banas said.

“Veterans come from Park Avenues to park benches,” Banas said. “And you can go to Florida and you can find guys coming down to the VA in Bentleys and Mercedes to get their pills — of course they are doing their co-pay — and you can go to the inner cities and see guys who outwardly seem to be extremely destitute.

“But they are entitled to those benefits … because when they served together they were all bound and bonded.”

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