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Local veterans, providers talk to Syracuse VA officials at Watertown town hall

Watertown Daily Times - 1/19/2018

Jan. 19--WATERTOWN -- Leaders of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Syracuse got some direct feedback as they spoke to local veterans and providers about their services Thursday.

Some who stood up said they and the people they knew liked the care they received at VA facilities at Eastern Boulevard and Route 11. Others were less complimentary.

"I just go to Syracuse," said Dan Bearley, an Air Force and Army veteran who last served in 2015. "I kind of avoid here if I can."

About two dozen people asked questions to local and regional VA officials during the event held at the Watertown Vet Center, 210 Court St.

Dr. Judy Hayman, who was selected as director of the Syracuse VA Medical Center in December, said such feedback was "invaluable."

"If we don't get feedback from people using the services, we can't make changes," she said.

The Syracuse center is responsible for seven outpatient clinics throughout a 13-county region, including locations in Watertown, Massena and Oswego.

Officials also used the meeting to outline the care offered in Watertown and other nearby locations, the wide range of local staffing and new programs at locations like River Hospital.

"It's an incremental process, and we've made a lot of progress over the years, and we'll continue to do so," said Richard G. Kazel, primary care line manager for the Syracuse VA Medical Center.

Questions for officials covered topics such as telehealth care, appointment wait times, recruiting new volunteers and the VA Choice program.

Officials were also asked if the two clinic spaces in Watertown could be moved into a single space. One participant noted veterans coming to Watertown for appointments sometimes go to the wrong office.

"In theory, potentially yes," Mr. Kazel said. "In practical terms, I'll be very blunt, I don't see it happening."

Explaining the challenges the VA faced in finding work spaces, Mr. Kazel noted the VA's location in the CANI Building, 19472 Route 11, was supposed to be a "short-term lease" when it began operating there in 2008.

"Now it's 2018, and we're still in that building," Mr. Kazel said.

VA officials also said they were awaiting guidance following an executive order from President Donald J. Trump providing veterans with mental health care for a year after leaving the military.

The order is especially focused on the 60 percent of new veterans who do not qualify for care until the government establishes that a medical issue has ties to their military service.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.


(c)2018 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

Visit Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.) at www.watertowndailytimes.com

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