Vets give VA care mixed reviews

Skyler Alan, 5, asks Ralph Wilson of Grand Junction questions about the Vietnam veteran’s prosthetic arm and leg during a break at the Veterans Town Hall meeting held at the Palisade Community Center’s American Legion Hall on Monday. Skyler’s father, Randy Alan of Grand Junction, and his grandmother, Sheila Morey of Fruita, were discussing Randy’s G.I. Bill benefits for college with regional VA officers. During the meeting, Wilson praised the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center for its work with his prosthetic knee.  He is a U.S. Army veteran who lost his arm and leg when he stepped on a booby trap in Vietnam.

Some military veterans piped up to say they were happy with their health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Others weren’t so pleased with their treatment.

Monday night’s veterans’ town hall at the Palisade Community Center was an opportunity for veterans to air their grievances and receive direct help from a number of VA officials who traveled from around the state for the listening session.

Regional Director Ralph Gigliotti of Veterans Affairs Rocky Mountain Network told a few dozen veterans in the audience that veterans health care is at a crossroads.

“The VA under the new administration is at a real juncture,” he said.

Gigliotti said the Veterans Choice Program is seeking to become more like privatized health care.

“There’s a long-term fix in the works to ensure the services we offer in Grand Junction and at the hospital get you the care which you deserve,” he said.

U.S. Army veteran John Zabawa, 66, of Palisade, said he is happy with treatment he’s received at the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He received great care at St. Mary’s Hospital with his VA benefits after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Wait times are short to see doctors at the Grand Junction VA, he said.

Zabawa, who served in the military between 1969 and 1972, showed up Monday to listen to VA officials speak, but said he didn’t learn much more than he already knew.

“It’s the same thing as Congress,” he said. “All talk and no show.”

Randy Alan, who served two tours in Afghanistan in nine years with the U.S. Army, viewed Monday night as an opportunity to get someone to listen to his pleas.

The veteran who uses a service dog said he has post-traumatic stress disorder and has been denied a number of benefits, including full GI Bill benefits and disability pay.

“Glad I have family,” Alan said. “If not, I’d be homeless.”

Alan said he wasn’t hopeful Monday night that his concerns would be fixed, but a number of VA officials took time to listen to his story.

Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center Director Michael Kilmer said in a conversation after the presentation that although the local hospital is small, “it is small but mighty.”

“We can do better, and look at community care,” he said. “We really have to understand what we can do better, faster, cheaper.”

Kilmer said he is “confident” a new model being devised to replace the Choice program, roughly dubbed “Choice 2.0,” will provide better service for veterans.

Last year’s town hall meeting in Palisade was rife with veterans complaining about months’ long wait times to see health care providers under the Choice program.


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