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Town halls show Durham VA's progress, challenges

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The Durham VA is working to reduce wait time and improve service.

Two years ago the Durham VA Hospital had one of the worst wait times in the country. In some cases the wait was more than 100 days. Fast forward to 2016 and its top people say they've come a long way. They say they're beating the national average wait time at VA hospitals of 30 days to just nine days for new patients.

They shared these latest numbers regarding their wait times:

  • In FY 2015, we had 729,447 outpatient visits.

  • The national VA goal is to complete all appointments within 30 days of the Veteran's preferred date or the date medically determined by their physician. According to the most current data released 93.95% of all our appointments were completed within 30 days.

  • Average Primary Care Wait Times - 6.01 Days

  • Average Specialty Care Wait Times - 8.95 Days

  • Average Mental Health Wait Times - 3.88 Days

  • We provide same day access for Veterans with urgent medical needs.

While it's doing much better, the Durham VA Hospital still hosts quarterly events for its veterans, giving them access to the hospital's top people. They say they use these events as basically a safety net, to catch whatever other issues veterans are dealing with when it comes to access to care.

Jesse Barnes is one of several veterans who attended one of these one-on-one question-and-answer sessions in Durham on Tuesday evening.

"I put my life on the line and now I'm just left behind," said Barnes, who served in the Coast Guard.

Barnes said he has no problem getting medical care but is having trouble getting services related to his hearing loss from his time in the service. He said his records have simply gone missing.

Veterans attend the town hall on Tuesday evening.

"None of my records exist," Barnes said. "I have a letter from the commandant, a direct order of the President of the United States to search for my military records and my military medical records."

Phyllis Mills, who was in the U.S. Army, said she's having trouble getting her therapy scheduled for her traumatic brain injury.

"It's been a headache," Mills said.

Veterans attend the town hall on Tuesday evening.

In her case, she lives in Rocky Mount, so the VA is working with outside sources to set her up with a program closer to home.

DeAnne Seekins is the Medical Center Director for the Durham Healthcare System. She said the Durham VA serves 70,000 veterans in 27 counties and that these are the issues she needs to hear about to make sure the VA works for everyone.

"We're available and ready and there is no wrong door into the VA," Seekins said.

Veterans who need urgent help can call a special crisis line at (800) 273-8255.

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