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VA Town Hall Meetings Getting Off to Boisterous Start

Veterans venting their deep frustrations across the country 

New VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald has pledged to stage town hall meetings at each VA medical center and regional office across the nation to address Veterans’ concerns. But for McDonald, this may be a classic case of “Be careful what you wish for.”

So far, Veterans are speaking out loudly and at times angrily about the failure of VA to process claims in a timely and efficient manner. And they’re saying that things are not improving quickly enough.

At one of the first town hall meetings held last week in Columbia, South Carolina, The State newspaper reports that Leanne Weldin, director of the embattled Columbia Regional VA Office, told a packed room of unhappy Veterans that her office has improved the processing of disability compensation claims.

After her speech, several Veterans expressed their frustration.

“A lot of Veterans are saying the VA is just waiting for us to die or to quit trying” to get claims, said Bruce Wright of Swansea, S.C., who complained that national VA claims staffers told him his appealed claim was in the computer system, but local staffers insist the information isn’t in the system.

Wright’s complaints were typical of the few people given a chance to speak at what was one of the first of dozens of meetings McDonald has promised, The State reports. 

Not knowing what kind of a turnout to expect for the scheduled two-hour session, the meeting was planned in a room that held 80 seats. When enough people showed up to fill it twice, the organizers decided to break it into two one-hour meetings, according to the newspaper.

Meantime, at a hastily planned town hall meeting last week at the downtown library in Wichita, Kansas, the Wichita Eagle reports that Kenneth Taylor, a Marine veteran, told VA administrators he’s frustrated that it took 17 years to get his disability claim for PTSD settled with the VA Medical Center in Wichita.

“Deny, deny until they die,” Taylor said. “That seems to be the VA’s strategy.”

About 40 Veterans and family members reportedly attended the two-hour meeting that the newspaper said was quickly put together by the VA to discuss claims for disability benefits. A number of Veterans told the newspaper that more veterans would have been at the meeting if information about it had gone out sooner. The media, service organizations and congressional offices were notified Wednesday afternoon by the VA.

Mitzi Marsh, director of veterans benefits at the VA’s Wichita regional office, told the newspaper that she was told Aug. 8 by the Washington, D.C., office that VA sites across the country must hold a town hall meeting by the end of September.

McDonald, who became VA’s new secretary in late July, issued the order in response to a backlash over long waits for medical care and to get claims resolved and the manipulation nationwide of wait times for Veterans.

This week, the Florida members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee hosted their own town hall meeting in Jacksonville to answer veterans’ questions about VA issues.  

Jacksonville’s Channel 4 News quoted Florida Congressman Ander Crenshaw as saying, “I think a town hall meeting like this gives you a real clear look at how some of these federal programs impact individual people. And that’s what I want to hear more of and I want (us to do a) better job at delivering the services like the VA to the people.”

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