WTVM Special Report: Military Med

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Veteran Affairs problems very well known… but seem very hard to solve.

"If you serve your country, you should be taken care of."

What is being done locally to help the VA backlog?

News Leader 9's Chuck Leonard reports Military Med, Thursday, Nov. 5 at 11 p.m./10 p.m. CT on News Leader 9.

Veterans Day is Wednesday, November 11, a time set aside to remember the men and women who've served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

That used to bring with it special privileges, especially once a service member retired or got out of the military.

But recent problems with the VA have led some to question the nation's commitment to its veterans.

Problems at VA clinics and medical centers around the country are well-documented.

Many veterans have had to wait months to see a doctor, and in some cases, they have died waiting.

One local veteran finds that appalling.

"When you put your life on the line for your country, you kind of expect them to take care of you and help you if you have problems recurring from that," said Vietnam veteran William Fuller.

Efforts have been made to cut down on the backlog.

In fact, federal legislation designed to speed up the process, cleared both houses of Congress.

"The Veterans Choice Bill, which we all passed, the House I think passed it unanimously and so did the Senate last August, it was implemented in November, is designed to give veterans a choice," said Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson ( R). "If they can't get a timely appointment or if they live a long distance from a facility, they can go to the private sector to a Medicare-approved doctor and get that help."

Veterans in this area are getting the help they need at an all new VA Clinic at Fort Benning.

The clinic, which opened in July, offers health access to some 13,000 veterans.

If they need surgery, Martin Army Community Hospital is a stone's throw away, and has made room for veterans.

"We have the excess capacity because we have a few more surgeons than we need to actually take care of our military population on this post," said Colonel Shawn Nessen, Deputy Commander for Clinical Services. "So, by reaching out to the VA and bringing in these patients, we're able to provide the surgeons with the caseload that they need to stay very experienced and very practiced. So, it's a win-win for everybody. The V-A gets great surgical care from well-trained surgeons, and we get the experience of taking care of those patients."

Another benefit is the camaraderie that has developed between soldiers of different generations.

"When people see that, just that interaction where they kind of trade stories, learn from one another," Col. Nessen said. "There's been a positive benefit from that as well as the access for the patient."

Vietnam vet William Fuller of Smiths Station has been pleased.

"I think they do an excellent job for the job they have to do," Fuller said. "I mean, they've got a tremendous task to take care of us veterans, there's a lot of us. My encounters with the VA have been good."

The same goes for James Leonard of Woodland, a veteran of Vietnam and the first Gulf War.

But he has advice for all former service members regardless of where you're seeking treatment.

"One thing I'd like to let every veteran know, you've got to be patient," Leonard said. "If you don't have the patience, then you're going to add to the problem you already have."

The numbers are expected to improve with the new clinic. Columbus area veterans already have higher than average wait times when it comes to appointments, with a typical three-day wait for established patients and a 52-day wait for new ones.

Additionally, there is an outpatient clinic in Columbus, and just like the one at Fort Benning it is operated by the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.

And join the conversation on social by using #MilitaryMed.

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