Veterans Affairs | St. Louis Public Radio

Veterans Affairs

Matt Palozola greets friends at a fundraiser for the Zola Initiative, a nonprofit he started in honor of his brother. Dec. 15, 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When Tom Palozola arrived at Webster University after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he struggled to fit in with his younger classmates. But he found solace in in the Student Veterans Organization.

As its president, Palozola worked tirelessly to acquire a grant to open a campus veterans center. He envisioned it as a refuge for veterans who also felt like campus outsiders.  

Palozola had suffered a traumatic brain injury when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan. He struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and died by suicide last May.

My St. Louis VA, Part 3: 'Getting Back to People'

Nov 10, 2017
The stories of St. Louis-area veterans are featured in a three-part series.
Monica Ramirez | St. Louis Public Radio

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Mission Continues fellow and former U.S. Army combat correspondent Monica Ramirez and production engineer Aaron Doerr took us through the final part of a three part series about veterans getting health care and related services through the St. Louis VA Health Care System.

Through sound-rich narration and storytelling, we heard the perspectives of eight local veterans and their families as they weighed in on what is troubling, isolating, encouraging, and healing about the VA.

My St. Louis VA, Part 2: 'Fighting to Get Help’

Nov 9, 2017
Tim Yandell, 53, served in the United States Army for eight years as a Morse Code Interceptor.
Monica Ramirez | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of veterans seeking care from the VA has shot up in the last few years but across the country, the number of medical staff available to provide healthcare services has not.

My St. Louis VA, Part 1: ‘Hoops & Cracks’

Nov 8, 2017
Laurie Ootey is pictured with her husband, Donald Ootey.  Donald Ootey died in 2015.
Monica Ramirez | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of veterans seeking care from the VA has shot up in the last few years but across the country, the number of medical staff available to provide healthcare services has not.

A 2014 law, the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act, funneled $2.5 billion to VA medical centers for assistance in hiring more doctors, nurses and other medical staff. However, an investigation by NPR and local member stations conducted earlier this year found that wait times have not improved.

Gov. Eric Greitens speaks during a news conference after the end of the 2017 legislative session. Greitens used this opportunity to compare lawmakers to third graders for not passing enough bills.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has sent a scathing letter to the state’s two U.S. senators – including fellow Republican Roy Blunt – that accuses them of ignoring problems at the state-run St. Louis Veterans Home and trying to shift the responsibility to him.

In the letter, sent Thursday, Greitens appeared to take offense at an earlier letter that Blunt and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill had jointly sent to him this week asking for an investigation into accusations of patient mistreatment.

Jim Craig, James Petersen, Heath McClung, and Jonathan Hurly, all veterans, joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss what it is like to be a student veteran.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

When people think of the issues faced by veterans in their return to civilian life, the mind often goes to stereotypes: trauma, PTSD, disability. That’s not the only story to tell, said Jonathan Hurly, president of the Saint Louis University Veterans Association.

Landlords recruited to rent to St. Louis' homeless veterans

Apr 7, 2017
Moments after recieving the keys to his new apartment, Nicholas Palazzolo checks out the living room and balcony.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Nicholas Palazzolo has been living in his truck since late November last year. At age 73, spending the coldest months of the year in a vehicle isn’t easy — but Palazzolo keeps his situation in perspective.

“I had it easy by comparison,” said Palazzolo. “There are others that are going through some pretty horrific times for an infinite variety of reasons.”

Preservation lab technician Rebecca Thorn pieces together fragments of a fire-damaged record at the National Personnel Records Center in November 2016
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Archivist Marta O’Neill was standing inside a warehouse-sized storage bay at the cavernous National Personnel Records Center, just off interstate 270 in north St. Louis County.

Nearly 60 million individual military personnel records are stored at the site, but this storage bay is unique. It houses only B-files: the 6.5 million records salvaged from the 1973 fire at the center’s old facility on Page Avenue. That fire destroyed the records of 18 million veterans who served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

A sign in the window at the downtown office directs veterans to the new benefits office at 9700 Page Ave. in Overland on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

The VA is still working to get the word out to veterans that its regional benefits office has moved from downtown St. Louis to the Prevedel Federal Building at 9700 Page Ave. in Overland.

The VA closed its offices at 400 S. 18th St. on Friday afternoon and reopened Monday morning at the Overland location.  It was a massive move involving about 800 employees, along with representatives of Veterans Service Organizations like the American Legion, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Before it was banned in 1978, lead paint was commonly used in homes. In St. Louis, which is dominated by older housing stock, lead contamination is still prevalent.
Abby Lanes | Flickr

Four employees who work in a Veterans Affairs records office in north St. Louis have tested positive for higher than average levels of lead in their blood, though officials stressed that the measurements still fall within the range that is normal for U.S. adults.  

VA officials say veterans' care is improving

Aug 19, 2016
The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Veterans Affairs officials say they’re making progress towards shorter wait times at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, but the numbers show that challenges remain. 

At a meeting Friday with the leaders of veteran’s service organizations, Keith Repko, interim medical director, cited the latest report: In St. Louis, patients are waiting an average of five days for mental health appointments, 12 days for primary care and about eight days to see a specialist.

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Next week, in-person interviews will begin for a new director of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Health Care System in St. Louis -- for the ninth time in three years.

The challenges of finding a director who can make a long-term commitment aren't unique to St. Louis. Across the nation, the VA has had difficulty recruiting administrators, VA Under Secretary David Shulkin said Friday.

Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Several Vietnam veterans told an Illinois task force on Monday that the Veterans Administration should be doing a better job of treating depression and post-traumatic stress.

The Illinois Task Force on Veterans’ Suicides is holding hearings throughout the state to investigate ways to prevent suicide among Illinois veterans. Nationally, 22 veterans kill themselves every day.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

This past June, 33 Veterans Court Technology Clinic students and supporters watched as seven of their colleagues took part in the clinic’s first formal graduation ceremony. The clinic is part of a special drug court in St. Louis that provides an alternative to incarceration for veterans. It provides job skills for participants in the program.

St. Louis International Film Festival

Journalism movies are making a big splash this Oscars season. From “Truth,” the Robert Redford film about the Dan Rather controversy, to “Spotlight,” which follows the Boston Globe investigation of child abuse by Catholic clergy, journalists are once again the center of their own stories.

After meeting with female veterans and healthcare providers, Blunt walks to the VA Women's Clinic in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 38,000 veterans who live in Missouri are women, and that number continues to grow rapidly.

That means changes are in store for the Veterans Health Administration, a network of hospitals and clinics that provide care to active duty service members and discharged veterans. Serving more women means expanding the VA’s capacity to offer gynecological exams, services surrounding childbirth, and counseling related to military sexual trauma.  

The Mission Continues is helping launch an effort to help veterans reintegrate into communities and improve their economic opportunities. Here, members of the St. Louis chapter participate in a service project.
The Mission Continues St. Louis | Facebook

St. Louis is one of the first 25 cities where a new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' initiative to give veterans more educational and employment opportunities launches this summer. 

The John Cochran veterans facility on North Grand Boulevard.
Donna Korando | St. Louis Public Radio

The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for a few good directors, actually more than a few. System wide the department has been dealing with a lack of qualified candidates to run its beleaguered health-care facilities. In St. Louis, the top job has been posted seven times since 2013.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says the “majority of the time they posted this position, they got no applicants.” To remedy that shortage of qualified applicants, McCaskill is introducing legislation today to allow VA facilities to increase pay for directors.

John A Cochran hospital
Bill Greenblatt | UPI | File photo

It has been two years since the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System in St. Louis has had a permanent director. In that time, at least seven acting directors have filled the top spot on short-term rotations of about 120 days, according to Marcena Gunter, the public affairs manager with the VA in St. Louis.

That, combined with a recent report from the Department’s Inspector General’s Office identifying 45 problems at the facility including, expired medications, unsanitary conditions in patient care areas and improper storage of oxygen tanks and other supplies, has prompted both of Missouri’s U.S. senators to urge VA Secretary Robert McDonald, to move quickly in hiring a new director.

John Cochran hospital
File photo

Missouri’s U.S. senators, Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill, say they are concerned with the latest findings in a review of operations, at the VA’s St. Louis Health Care System.

The review makes 45 recommendations for improvements, ranging from sanitation to management inconsistencies. In a letter to the acting director of the facility, Patricia Ten Haaf, the senators ask to be kept informed of her plans to address the findings and “specific corrective actions. ... Our veterans have earned and deserve the very best in treatment and services,” both write.

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