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VA Town Hall Set For Monday In Pensacola

Veterans Administration

Veterans in the Pensacola area are invited to a town hall meeting Monday evening at the VA’s Joint Ambulatory Care Center, this is part of the reforms sweeping through the Veterans’ Administration.

Newly installed VA Secretary Robert McDonald has ordered all hospitals and benefits offices to host town halls. Speaking to the Disabled American Veterans national convention in Phoenix last month, he said part of the agency’s mission is to rebuild the trust that was lost in the scandal over delayed care – which was originally uncovered in Phoenix.

On his first day as VA Secretary, McDonald asked all employees to join him in reaffirming their commitment to its core values. That, he says, will help them deal with what he calls “systemic failures.”

“Veterans are waiting too long for getting care,” said McDonald, a West Point graduate and former CEO of Procter and Gamble. “Our scheduling system is antiquated. There were widespread attempts to gain the system. This, of course, only hid the problem, making veterans wait even longer for care.”

The town halls – including Monday’s in Pensacola -- are open forums for veterans, and listening sessions for Gulf Coast VA leadership according to Jerron Barnett, a spokesman at the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System which oversees VA hospitals and clinics from Biloxi to Panama City.

“The point of this for us,” said Barnett, “Is to require our executive leadership to really sit down with veterans and listen to what they have to say.”

VA’s goal is to hear from vets, their families, and beneficiaries. Their health care concerns will be addressed by a senior Gulf Coast VA official and/or subject-matter expert. 

Revamping the Veterans Administration now includes a local change at the top. Anthony Dawson – the director of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System since 2012 -- has been reassigned to Jackson, Mississippi. Mark Morgan is the acting director.

Gulf Coast VA facilities already deal with high caseloads – this area is home to perhaps the nation’s largest concentration of military veterans. And one of the largest present challenges is meeting the in-patient needs of some vets.

“We work with our partners in DoD (Department of Defense) and in the community to provide those services,” Barnett said. “If we don’t have an opportunity to send them to Biloxi, we find ways to overcome that.”

Barnett added that, despite its size, the Pensacola VA Center is an outpatient clinic – not a hospital.

Barnett says another major issue moving forward is caring for the influx of new veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, some of whom already are receiving services.

Monday’s town hall begins at 6:00 p.m. at the Joint Ambulatory Care Center – 790 Veterans’ Way – along Highway 98 in West Pensacola.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.