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Government, Politics & Issues

American Legion Targets Gap Between Veterans And VA St. Louis Health Care

Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio
Navy veteran Mike LeBlanc discusses health care with Verna Jones, director of the American Legion's Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Division.

The American Legion is looking for St. Louis-area veterans who need help getting medical services from the VA Health Care System.

The Legion has sent members from its “System Worth Saving Task Force” in Washington, D.C., to relay concerns directly from St. Louis-area veterans.

The three-person task force is meeting with the director of the local VA system today to bring up problems raised by veterans at a town hall-style meeting that it hosted Monday night, said Verna Jones, director of the Legion's Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Division in Washington.

Jones spoke with veterans who attended the meeting at the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis, encouraging them to express the specifics of their difficulty getting care.  

A recent internal audit found more than 700 VA hospitals and clinics nationwide made roughly 57,000 veterans wait 90 days or longer for their first appointments. St. Louis ranked fifth worst in the country for the average times new patients seeking specialty treatment had to wait. The audit showed patients of St. Louis’ VA Health Care System, which includes the John Cochran and Jefferson Barracks hospitals and various clinics waited 86 days on average to see specialists.

Though most who spoke at the meeting, lamented their poor treatment, Army veteran Jack Massey told the crowd he’s received good care with the VA. He urged those struggling to get services through the VA's bureaucracy to take advantage of the Legion’s help which has also set up a "Veterans Crisis Command Center" at St. Louis University's law school downtown.

“This is available to you ladies and gentlemen. Don’t give up fighting for it," Massey said. "You have organizations here that will fight for you, that will fight with you. Use them. If you find somebody else who doesn’t know it, please, let them know.”

This is the fourth such center the American Legion has set up recently to help veterans. The Legion, with assistance from the VA and other organizations, has been operating week-long crisis centers for veterans and their families since early June in Phoenix, Fayetteville, N.C., and El Paso, Texas. Another center is also assisting veterans in Fort Collins, Colo. this week.

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