RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) --They've already survived the trenches of war, but now these veterans are fighting a forest of red tape.
The Durham VA Health Care System hosted a town hall meeting on Tuesday at Raleigh's newest outpatient clinic, which is expected to serve 13,000 veterans in the area.
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"As clinicians, we don't pay attention to demographics. We just take care of the patients," Dr. Christian Donohue, the clinic's medical director, told ABC11. "But there's a lot of red tape to get to the benefits. I know that we're working on making that easier nationally and we're working on that here."
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Veterans, family members and other beneficiaries were invited to attend, as were congressional stakeholders, Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), non-governmental organizations and other community partners.
Donohue said the veterans who attended were provided the opportunity to meet one-on-one with members of the executive leadership team to protect their individual privacy and confidentiality. Leadership, in addition to other key staff, also offered updates on the facility's progress regarding relevant topics such as access, scheduling, and the Choice program.
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"The VA is one of these enterprises where we learn from each other," Donohue said. "It's not every VA is a separate entity unto itself."
The town hall occurred two weeks after the ABC11 I-Team obtained photos of a veteran on the ground after a long wait at the VA clinic. The pictures, taken by other veterans waiting for an appointment, highlighted some of the well-documented struggles of the federal agency.
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Veterans we spoke with said they are concerned about wait times, but they're also concerned about the staff's training to treat their complex health issues.
"I'm concerned about the competency and knowledge these guys have to deal with people with mental issues, and PTSD," Tom Mitchell, a retired Marine who served in the first Gulf War told ABC11. "This is serious stuff and they need to have special training to deal with this."
Mitchell added that he likes to attend VA town halls because he gets to interact with other veterans - not necessarily the VA staff.
"The other vets is where I get my most reliable information from," Mitchell said. "I have found that out after 20 years myself at the VA."
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