There were representatives from the VA and from several veterans' groups on hand during the morning event, ready to answer questions about benefits and help veterans like Leake navigate the red tape.
Ronnie Leake came from Perry on Saturday to the VFW Hall in Monroe City wanting help to deal with what he calls frustrating red tape for his Veteran Administration health care benefits.
Leake, a Vietnam combat veteran who served in the Army from 1969-70, participates VA’s choice program but he is unhappy with delays in getting services.
“I am just tired of all the red tape, and so are the doctors and the hospitals,” Leake said. “I am in the program and having a lot of problems with it. We are told to do it one, then another way. We really don’t know what the rules are to get…my doctor bills paid.”
Across the table from him, Larry Dooley, an Air Force veteran, came for a different reason. He drove in from Troy, Mo., seeking information on a friend of his who died.
“We were seeking records on him but they must have burned up in that fire they had at Jefferson Barracks,” he said. “I want to find his DD214 (military service record). I want to get him a headstone. The man is not going to lay out there in the cemetery without a headstone.”
Leake, 68, is particularly concerned because he is on disability caused by two serious back injuries in Vietnam. The choice program is not his first frustrating experience with the VA.
“I first applied for disability in 1970 when I got home, and finally was approved in 1997,” he said.
His case is precisely why the VFW organized Saturday’s Veterans Expo, said Jim Clark of the VFW post.
“We figure if we can help people on the room, that’s a good thing. There are just so many good programs available, but veterans need help understanding what is available,” said Clark, who served in the Army from 1952-54 during the Korean War era.
There were representatives from the VA and from several veterans’ groups on hand during the morning event, ready to answer questions about benefits and help veterans like Leake navigate the red tape.
Health care for veterans has been a very public black-eye for the VA as news of a scandal rocked the agency. In 2014, whistle-blower revealed that employees of the Phoenix VA were creating false appointment entries to make it appear they were meeting the mandated 14 days for veterans to see a doctor. In April 2014, CNN reported that 35 veterans had died while seeking treatment from the Phoenix VA.
It was the tip of a scandal that ripped through the VA, with numerous reports of delays for veterans seeking medical care. In fact, an internal VA audit released in June 2014 found that more than 120,000 veterans were left waiting or never got care and that schedulers were pressured to use unofficial lists or engage in inappropriate practices to make waiting times appear more favorable.
Expanding the VA Choice Program was one of the answers that Congress provided for veterans who were hard-pressed to find service from the overtaxed and understaffed VA system. The choice program allows veterans to see private doctors in some circumstances. The doctors are reimbursed by the VA for the care.
David Cozart is a VA outreach specialist who drove in from St. Louis for the event. He spent the morning helping veterans with a range of issues.
He said one of the issues for the choice program is that the changes because of the 2014 scandal are still being absorbed into the VA system.
“A lot of the questions today are on benefits, what is stalling benefits, what is the hang,” he said. “The Veterans Choice program still under way…if they are here because of red tape, I will ask them where they stand in the process. I help them find the issues and if someone if causing it, we can correct the situation.”