Augusta VA director makes call for aid

Under ongoing scrutiny over delays in patient care, the director of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center said Friday during a symposium in Augusta that working with local nonprofits is essential to success.

Speaking on behalf of Sloan Gibson, the deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs, Augusta VA chief Bob Hamilton defended the federal department that’s been accused of falsifying data and creating secret waiting lists to hide mounting delays.

Hamilton delivered the keynote address at the Augusta Warrior Project’s first Warrior Community Integration Symposium. Gibson was scheduled to speak but canceled Thursday evening to help with the agency’s ongoing investigation into possible fraud at facilities in Arizona, Colorado and Texas.

“The VA cannot do it alone,” Hamilton said to a crowd of more than 260 people. “We need the help from partners outside the Department of Veterans Affairs if we are going to achieve at the highest level. Collaboration is key. Partnerships and alliances of all sorts are essential.”

Increased access to health care, jobs and education for veterans was the primary focus of the two-day symposium with more than 70 organizations from 20 states.

The conference featured panel discussions on improving government collaboration and veteran integration into the community, raising awareness of veteran homelessness, education, employment and behavioral health issues.

“People were really impressed,” Jim Lorraine, the Augusta Warrior Project’s president, said of the symposium. “This is setting Augusta as the standard.”

In the next few months, the Augusta Warrior Project’s community integration section will become “America’s Warrior Partnership,” board members said.

Current partners include Charleston, S.C.; Tacoma, Wash.; and the Florida panhandle. Other cities represented at the symposium were Atlanta; Miami; Detroit; San Antonio; Houston; Dallas; Greenville, S.C.; Tulsa, Okla.; Syracuse N.Y.; and Fredericksburg, Va.

Ann Gifford, the manager of Rocky Mountain Human Services, attended the convention from Denver. Her organization serves more than 2,000 veterans through three programs funded by public and private
partnerships that seek to match veterans with homes, jobs and affordable mental health care.

Gifford said useful tips included having veteran employees familiar with military vernacular coordinate social media efforts to reach veterans and reaching veterans through spouses.

“People are here for a reason and eager to connect and share ideas,” said Gifford, who has already exchanged e-mails with several conference participants. “The learning is contagious.”

Lorraine said next year the Augusta Warrior Project hopes to expand the symposium’s exhibit hall to increase attendance, which was originally expected to be between 400 and 600 people.

“This is a great example of what we’re seeing trending across the country with civilian communities embracing veterans and helping them transition into society,” said Col. Jim Isenhower, the director of warrior and family support for the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

 

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BARROW’S DOUBTS

U.S. Rep. John Barrow said Friday that he has “no reason to believe” that delays in the gastrointestinal unit at the Charlie Norwood VA hospital have been completely addressed.

The Augusta VA released a detailed account last month that more than a third of the 4,580 veterans who experienced delays in the clinic were treated by the VA and that about half declined treatment, could not be reached or went elsewhere for procedures.

“If, in fact, the backlog has been cleared and no delays remain, this is a good model to build on,” the Augusta Democrat said. “But I won’t be satisfied until everybody who seeks care here gets it and every test that is requested by a primary physician is followed up on by a specialist.”

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