Local VA under review by American Legion

A task force from The American Legion is putting the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center under the microscope and talking about issues from parking to homeless veterans.

As part of its annual "System Worth Saving" review, the group will inspect 44 VAs this year and issue a report of its findings in August that will go to Congress and to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, said Paul A. Morin, a past national commander who is part of the task force in Augusta.

The group inspected the Uptown Division on Wednesday and is scheduled to go to the Downtown Division today.

The group has gotten letters from veterans about the care, both good and bad, and is addressing those with the administration and staff, Morin said. One immediate issue is parking, he said.

"We know there's a parking problem," Morin said. "We commend the staff, the director here, that they put in the valet parking. We see that at a lot of VA medical centers around the country."

But the facility badly needs a $9 million garage to address its parking needs, he said. The group met with administrators but Morin noted that it was with some acting administrators.

"Right now, and we feel it is an issue we're seeing around the country, there's a number of medical centers that the directors are acting, and they haven't put in a permanent (administrator), as you've got here," he said. "And it's been over four months."

Charlie Norwood VA Director Rebecca Wiley was temporarily assigned in December to the VA's Southeast Network office to work on a special project, and Patricia Pittman from the VA in Columbia, was assigned as acting director. Those assignments have been extended but spokeswoman Janice Kennedy said she was not sure for how long.

When that happens you can lose "continuity," Morin said.

The group was impressed by the Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit at the Charlie Norwood VA, which Morin said is a unique cooperation between the military and the VA.

In 2006, in a meeting with President George W. Bush, Morin said he asked for a better transition between the two.

"Our concern then was to have a medical record that would transfer electronically from your active military (duty) to the VA," he said. "We still haven't (gotten it). President Obama now has it as a priority."

The Augusta arrangement "shows you things can happen," Morin said. "Our primary concern and our only primary concern is the well-being of the active-duty military and the veterans who have served this country."

The group also praised the homeless veteran program in Augusta as comprehensive.

"When we talk about a homeless individual, it's not just that person not having a place to lay his head every evening, it's the diagnosis from medical and mental health to a place to sleep to a future," Morin said. "That's what they're offering here. You have to have all of that in place. Otherwise, you're not succeeding in bringing that veteran back to an asset to his community."

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