Green: VA clinic has long way to go
Former state commissioner agrees LC site is step in right direction
Despite the opening of the local Veterans Affairs clinic last year, veterans in Southwest Louisiana still lack access to needed services and the VA has a “long ways to go” before changing that fact, said former state Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Tom Green on Thursday.
“Certainly there have been many failures,” said Green, speaking at a meeting of the Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana. “I could probably speak for a day or two about where we could have been, where we should have been, and where dollars have been spent unnecessarily.”
A veteran himself, Green said when he left the military in 1975 he received “zero” support from the government. He said studies have shown the large majority of veterans have historically not been aware of available services because of a lack of communication on the VA’s part.
Advocacy has progressed by leaps and bounds over the years, he said, and staff at the VA are now “trying their best to convey information that was always before a little suspect.”
Green said a recent uptick in construction of clinics in less populous areas like Lake Charles has been a step in the right direction. But he recognized that there’s more work left to do before offering the full range of services at these locations.
The new 24,000-square-foot clinic that opened in August out at 3601 Gerstner Memorial Drive provides services that include mental health, nutrition, pharmacy, dental, eye care, hearing aid services, X-ray imaging, physical therapy and prosthetics.
Green said 7,000 veterans live in Lake Charles and over 20,000 in Southwest Louisiana that could utilize the facility.
One resident pointed out that the clinic, able to serve only a few thousand at this time, isn’t large enough to serve all those people.
He told Green the VA needs to distance itself from brick-and-mortar sites and start allowing veterans to receive care at regular hospitals.
Green said he agreed about shifting the model to give veterans more choice over their care. Already, he said, programs like the Veterans Choice Program allow those who qualify to receive care from a community provider on the VA’s dime.
Green said part of the issue is that red tape often holds up the process of receiving VA support for years, something leaders in Washington are keen on fixing.
“We have to streamline the process,” Green said.
He urged advocates at the local, state and national levels to be well-informed and “constructively impatient” in making long-needed changes.
“Let’s talk truth,” Green said in closing. “Millions upon millions of veterans are counting on us, counting on you, and your voice is very important.”