Veterans share frustration with Veterans Affairs

Veterans voiced anger and frustration about their healthcare experiences with the Department of Veterans Affairsat a town hall meeting in Charlotte Monday night.

About 30 veterans attended the meetingat the Charlotte Convention Center as part of the American Legion’s national convention. Rory Riley, staff director and counsel at the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said she would take notes to bring back to Congress.

Some veterans teared up while telling their stories.

John Warholak, a veteran of the Navy from Little River, S.C., chose not to speak about his recent neck surgery. He instead talked about a 91-year-old World War II veteran in South Carolina he has worked with who had trouble seeing a doctor.

“I cannot tell you how many guys I heard tell me the VA is waiting for us to die,” Warholak said. “It breaks my heart, especially the Vietnam veterans. It tears me up.”

Dave Cook, who went to Vietnam at age 19, said he was troubled by the government’s treatment of veterans.

“I’m really upset,” he said. “Enough is not being done. We take care of everybody except our own. Somebody should go to jail for that.

“They don’t know what it is like crawling through a rice paddy, trying to tear a button off your coat to get closer to the ground. When you don’t know if you’ll be alive the next day. They don’t know what we’ve been through.”

The American Legion holds similar town hall meetings in other locations across the country, usually with a representative from the VA to listen to complaints, said Ralph Bozella, chairman of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.

Along with the meeting, the Legion sets up veteran crisis command centers that expedite the claims of veterans with the VA. A center in Fayetteville assisted 787 veterans in June, according to the Legion.

Verna Jones, staff director at the American Legion office in Washington, D.C., said the centers were created to help veterans through the claims system.

“It takes a whole village, and we’re the village,” she said.

The veteran crisis command center will be open at the Convention Center on Tuesday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Wednesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Staff will be available to help veterans navigate through their healthcare claims with the Veterans Affairs.