AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Bruce Campbell said, “We all did time in the service. We’re all like a family of brothers.”
Bruce Campbell was in the U-S army’s first support brigade until 1973.
Now he supports his fellow vets as a volunteer.
I caught up with him recently at VFW Post 649 in South Augusta.
Bruce Campbell said, “When I first got out I worked for a company that had good medical benefits so I never bothered with the VA. But now with all the problems I don’t know if I want to go to the VA. Unless they get their problems squared away it’s going to be tough.”
Today the VA is finding it tough to overcome a tarnished reputation.
A couple years ago, scandalous allegations of vets dying while waiting to see a doctor made national headlines.
Dozens of VA hospitals were investigated.
Just last month, a former employee at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center was sentenced to prison for falsifying the medical records of hundreds of vets.
Today, Maria Andrews is the director of that medical center.
She took the reins in 2014 after the former director stepped down.
Andrews immediately spotted a problem.
Maria Andrews said, “When I first came here I became aware that we were not answering the phone in a timely matter.”
So Andrews established a call center where help for vets is as close as their phone.
Mary Morrison said, “Forty-five thousand patients use the VA hospital locally each year. In the call center alone, they receive some two-thousand calls a day.”
Maria Andrews said, “We have 21 administrative staff, seven nurses and several pharmacy technicians that respond to the majority of the calls that come into the medical center.”
Andrews says access to care is also improving.
Maria Andrews said, “We have an eight day wait time for primary care, an eight day wait time for specialty care and a two day wait time for mental health.”
Back at the VFW, most of the vets I spoke with seemed satisfied with the care they’ve received.
Vets like Red Hammond who served with the 82nd Airborn.
Red Hammond said, “I have no problems with the VA hospital and I get mad when someone talks about the VA”
David Bowers, a disabled vet who served in Europe, also gives local VA hospitals a thumbs up.
David Bowers said, “The VA is a good place. I get my health care. All my appointments are met on time as scheduled.”
VFW Commander Mike Gilmer started using the VA hospital in 2007.
Mike Gilmer said, “I know a lot of people have their doubts about the VA but I will tell you they have very much improved.”
What’s harder to change is the public’s perception of VA hospitals.
But Maria Andrews isn’t about to surrender on that front.
Maria Andrews said, “To all the veterans, if you are eligible for VA health care we would love and be honored to take care of you.”
As for this band of brothers, they believe her.
Mary Morrison WJBF News Channel six
Tonight my special report about caring for veterans in local VA hospitals will air at 11:00 p.m.
Like many of you, I’ve heard stories about veterans who did not get the care they needed while being treated at a VA hospital.
Recently, I sat down with some local vets who told me they had very few complaints.
I also spoke with the director of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and learned how she and thousands of other VA employees are working hard to improve the care vets receive.
Since my report was filed, a couple of folks reached out to me on Facebook.
Each is married to a vet.
One described her husband’s visit to a VA hospital as a “hellish nightmare”.
The other said her husband almost died following a botched surgery.
As a wife, I can only imagine what it felt like to see their loved ones suffer.
I know medical mistakes happen but when it is your husband or wife, son or daughter, those mistakes become personal.
It breaks my heart to think some of our nation’s heroes may not have received the medical care they deserved.
Nevertheless, I truly believe that most medical professionals, at the VA or other local hospitals for that matter, work extremely hard to take good care of their patients.
I am also encouraged by some of the changes that have occurred at local VA hospitals over the past couple of years.
For example, there is now a phone bank with more than two dozen operators to help connect veterans with the services they need.
Plus, there is a website that many vets find helpful.
To learn more, log on to http://www.myvabenefits.gov.
I am beginning to get a real sense that there is a greater willingness on the part of the local VA to listen to your concerns.
In fact, there will be a panel discussion later this month where issues pertaining to vets will be discussed.
It will be held on Tuesday, November 15 at Charlie Norwood VA Hospital in Augusta from 12:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.
If you are a veteran or a family member of a vet, let me encourage you to attend.
For more information call Beverly Scarlett at (706) 733-0188 Ext. 6169.
Problems won’t disappear overnight but speaking out about the problems and raising awareness can only help.
And to all the veterans who have served or are currently serving our great country, please accept my heartfelt gratitude.
Freedom isn’t free.
Thanks to you for paying the price.
America’s veterans fight to keep us free.
Some are wounded in battle.
Others come back from overseas forever changed by the things they saw.
As I worked on this special report, I had a chance to interview the Director of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.
Maria Andrews took the helm after the former director stepped down a couple of years ago.
She told me caring for America’s vets was a “sacred duty”.
I thought about that.
I thought about how the system had failed so many of our vets and I felt very sad.
I met with some local vets to see if they felt neglected or disappointed in the care they had received.
The veterans I interviewed acknowledged the past problems that have plagued many VA hospitals nationwide, but in their usual, selfless way, had some positive things to say about those who provide their care.
I asked one vet if he had experienced long wait times at the VA hospitals in Augusta to which he replied, “all my appointments are met on time as scheduled”.
Another vet defended the VA saying, “what doctor’s office have you ever been in that you didn’t have to sit down and wait?”.
The commander of a local VFW told me he thought local VA hospitals had improved 100 percent since he began using the VA in 2007.
When I pressed him on where the VA could improve even more, he thought for a moment then said, “The VA could get elderly vets their appointments more quickly.”
He and the other vets I spoke with would gladly give up their place in line for their older comrades.
Isn’t that just like our American heroes?
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The Charlie Norwood VA medical center serves more than 45,000 patients each year.
They come from Georgia and South Carolina and other states. Any veteran can access care at any VA hospital around the country.
Like many of you, I was deeply concerned a few years ago when it was reported that some patients were waiting for very long periods of time to see a doctor.
There were even reports of people literally dying to be seen. An investigation into the problem was launched. Recently, I met with some Veterans at VFW Post 649 in South Augusta.
It was really heartwarming to see how this “band of brothers” stick together.
Each month, they get together for a meal, usually prepared by a fellow vet or family of a veteran.
If one of their comrades needs a ride to the VA or anywhere else, they have only to ask.
It was such an honor to visit with these American heroes.
I listened to their concerns about the services they have received at the VA in the past and their hopes for the future.
God bless America’s Vets!