LONGVIEW, Texas (KETK) – The normally busy Veterans Affairs (VA) center in Longview was filled to the brim with veterans all for the town hall.
Each vet was hoping to hear first hand from the people in charge of the facility and its operations.
“We got a good crowd of veterans who are showing up and we’re hoping to learn a lot more about their issues and concerns and also answer any questions they may have,” said Shannon Arledge, Public Affairs Officer for the Overton Brooks Medical Center in Shreveport.
While many came to listen, others came prepared with a list of topics they wanted to address.
The most popular issue was the wait times.
“I’m hoping that they’ll try to get the phone problem fixed where we can be able to talk to them easier, I waited two hours to talk to them before,” said Willie Simpson a Vietnam Veteran.
Simpson served in Vietnam in 1967 and since then, he says, he still has nightmares about his experience as well as medical issues from his time overseas.
Like others, he arrived with a list of things he wanted to ask.
“Phone problems and trying to identify the people that you talk to because sometimes they have a tendency to get things mixed up over there,” said Simpson.
Also on his list was questions regarding bus schedule for disabled veterans.
Like many in attendance, Simpson heard about the town hall from a flyer or a brochure from the VA clinic.
Groups such as the American Legion or the VFW say they would have loved to have attended the town hall if only they had been informed of it.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” said Chris Moriarty, VFW Post 1183 Chaplain and Acting Senior Vice Commander. “The problem with it is you’ve got to get more people involved with it by letting other veteran organizations know what’s going on.”
Without VA employees around, Moriarty was able to speak freely on issues veterans face with the VA.
Though it was not his intention to bash the VA.
“The VA has gotten a lot better than what it was,” he said. “I submitted my first claim 15 years ago and it took them four years to get it approved…but now they’ve got so many things in place that if you put in a claim it doesn’t take maybe a month, two months max, to get approved.”
Moriarty says the town halls are a great way for the VA to reach out to the veterans, something other veterans agreed on.
Simpson has been dealing with the VA for the past 50 years
“They do try to help you,” Simpson said. “They just got so many vets they’re trying to help nowadays and it’s been a problem.”
Various improvements have been made over the years with the VA such as the Mission Act of 2018.
“The Mission Act is helping the VA improve access for veterans but the VA, as a provider in general, has improved over the past four to five years drastically,” said Arledge.
The Mission Act is aimed at helping veterans who live a great distance from the nearest VA hospital, under the Mission Act veterans can find a local healthcare provider to help their needs and the VA will cover the cost.
But like all VA programs, it has its share of failure.
“It works good in theory, if the equipment is currently running like it’s supposed to,” said Moriarty. I’m waiting on some dental work to be done, I’m on my fourth month now and it’s because nobody bothered to check to see if the information was sent after their computer froze.”
At the town hall, we asked Mr. Arledge for an example of how these town halls have helped in the past, veterans were not pleased with his answer.
“After every town hall we address every matter that is brought up, if we cannot take care of the issue tonight we’re going to take care of it in the next week to two weeks and make sure that issue is solved or we provide and answer as to why things are the way they are,” said Arledge.
“If he can’t think of one thing, and he’s supposed to be there for the veterans, and he can’t think of one thing that he’s gotten good for a veteran? He’s not doing his job,” said Moriarty.
According to the VA, these town hall meetings are held every quarter, so another should be held in the coming months.