Veterans speak out at VA town hall

November 11, 2014 Jaime DeJesus
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An informative and sometimes heated town hall veteran’s meeting was held at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center this fall to inform members of current happenings as well as listen to concerns.

“The VA is here to listen,” said Director of NY Harbor, Martina Parauda, who patiently addressed the concerns veterans raised regarding a variety of topics. “This is an opportunity for us to hear from you about how we could do things better across New York Harbor. The new secretary Robert McDonald has begun to emphasize I Care, which is an initiative started in VA three years ago and it’s ensuring that VA employees are focusing on what’s important for veterans. It’s about commitment and integrity to veterans. Because of that, we are all having town hall meetings to hear back from veterans.”

One attendee discussed the unreliable shuttle van service and how he missed important doctor appointments because his ride was cancelled at the last minute, without explanation.

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“I agree with you in terms of notice,” Parauda replied. “I don’t have enough drivers to run the shuttle van. That’s my problem. We need to do a better job making sure we have extra people who can drive available, so we don’t have a situation where I have to cancel a shuttle run for the day.”

Parauda also promised to look personally into a variety of topics brought up, such as patients being billed for Military Sexual Trauma (MST), while one woman stated that, according to the VA handbook, one should not be billed for medication for it.

Another point of contention was the lack of courtesy on the part of some staff members toward patients. “I’m trying to address the courtesy issue that has come up from a few of you,” Parauda said. “I will go forward and address the issue in a broad term. But if there are individuals that I know about in a timely manner, I can address it a lot easier.”

Liam McCabe represented Congressmember Michael Grimm at the meeting and stressed its significance. “I think it’s a really great step, this forum to bring veterans together to VA,” he said. “I think there are a lot of issues.” But, he noted, while some issues could be resolved locally, issues like MST require changes in policy. “That’s what we’re a part of and that’s what I’m interested in,” he said. McCabe also said he would bring all the concerns to Grimm and encouraged attendees to write letters to him.

During the meeting, Parauda also brought up future services that will improve the center. “VA is looking at providing child care services on site for veterans who have appointments at VA,” she said. “There is an effort in the VA to try to address that.”

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