FAYETTEVILLE (WTVD) --A team from American Legion national office is in Fayetteville, continuing a nationwide tour of troubled VA medical centers.
Verna Jones, director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation for the American Legion, is traveling with her staff to cities with VA facilities that rank among the worst in wait times. The D.C.-based group is responding to a recent audit, ordered in the wake of alleged misconduct at the Phoenix hospital. Fayetteville's facility ranked third worst in wait times for an initial primary care appointment, averaging 83 days.
Last week, Jones's group hosted a Phoenix Veterans town hall and opened a crisis center for appointment scheduling. On Sunday, they arrived in Fayetteville to prep for Monday evening's town hall at the American Legion Post 202, off Ramsey Street.
The event gave about 50 veterans a chance to sound off on their concerns, which will be passed along from Jones to Fayetteville VA Director Elizabeth Goolsby.
"They said it would be another three months to get an appointment. I have been waiting six months already," said one veteran.
"I see veterans that are 60-, 70-, or even 80-years-old. They have no chance," said retired Marine Peter Bimkonte. "It's killing them. They are dying."
"We are growing at seven times the national average," said VA Hospital Director Elizabeth Goolsby, who says the Fayetteville medical center is swamped with new veterans. "That means we are outstripping what we had never thought would happen. Nobody told us to plan for 13 years of wars."
A Fayetteville crisis center will open at Post 202 at noon Tuesday. Until Friday, veterans will be assisted in scheduling appointments and filing claims. The center will operate with the help of volunteers from the Fayetteville and Winston-Salem VA facilities, as well as the Red Cross. Jones noted nearly 600 veterans received expedited services in Phoenix, including appointments, during the crisis center opening in Phoenix.
"This is what happens when we're all on the same sheet of music," said Jones. "Things happen. Things move and veterans get what they deserve."
Tuesday morning, Jones is set to meet with Goolsby and forward Monday evening's concerns.
"We want to know what they're implementing, where they are in the implementation process and what the American Legion can do to help them make sure veterans get their appointments and them timely," said Jones.
The American Legion's arrival comes just days after Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson met with the leadership at the Fayetteville VA. He dedicated $7.4 million to go toward hiring more outside resources, clinicians and expanding clinic hours. Gibson noted space and specialist retention as top problems for the Fayetteville VA.
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