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State VA chief holds town hall

Last Modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 12:29 PM

By Lauren Manary / American Press

LEESVILLE — Veterans got the chance to air grievances and get answers from the state’s top Veterans Affairs official during a town hall meeting Monday at the local VFW.

Louisiana Veterans Affairs Secretary David LaCerte met with veterans and their families to hear how well his agency is performing. Some expressed frustration with long wait times for claims, and others said children are sometimes approved as dependents years after their birth.

“What I really want to do here today is to discuss everyone’s individual experiences with the system,” LaCerte said. “Now a lot of you, inevitably, will have great experiences. A lot of you love your doctors, love your nurses, have had great experiences with primary care. But a lot you haven’t had that. A lot of people have had difficulties with the system.”

Vietnam veteran Sam Fulton Sr., who has a 100 percent disability rating, said he is satisfied with his care.

“I dotted my i’s, crossed my t’s, and filled out my paperwork as they requested because I sent my paperwork in with the things I wanted to get done, and I’ve been treated real well,” Fulton said. “I have no complaints with the VA since the way they treated me since 1972.”

Most veterans present said they were generally happy with their care, with a few exceptions. Chelsea Gonzales medically retired from the Army in 2011 and received a 90 percent rating. She expressed frustration about her dealings with the VA and said every time she goes to see a doctor, she has a different primary care provider.

“I think that’s a little ridiculous,” Gonzales said. “Every time you get a new doctor you have to go back and explain.”

She said she has also been unsuccessful in getting an identification card for the system. She said that when she was getting ready to medically discharge from the Army, fellow soldiers warned her about using the Fort Polk VA clinic, saying it didn’t accept new patients.

Lawrence DeVoto, Fort Polk clinic administrative officer, said the clinic does not turn veterans away, but does struggles due to a lack of providers. Enticing doctors to Leesville is challenging, he said, and a bureaucratic hiring system makes it even harder.

LaCerte said that if the VA overhaul bill is signed into law, the hiring process for doctors and staff will be streamlined.

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