NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Emotions ran high at a community forum Tuesday on the North Little Rock VA campus. The town hall meeting, hosted by the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, was designed to generate a discussion on ways to improve veterans' health care. Many veterans said the actual care they've gotten at central Arkansas VA facilities has been top-notch, but the process of trying to navigate the bureaucracy of the VA in order to get that care was a nightmare.
"The VA has to understand that the tactics that you all have been using for years is outdated," said U.S. Navy veteran Noel Washington, just one of dozens of veterans expressing their frustration with the VA Tuesday. "Most of these vets that's been up here today, they are upset and they have a right to be that way… we have the right to be seen, to be heard and our complaints should be addressed and that's why we're here today."
"We wanted to get direct feedback from those veterans on what we can do to make our healthcare system better," said Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System Public Affairs Officer Miles Brown. "I'm a veteran as well, I get my care here, and my heart goes out to the veterans that are challenged in getting their healthcare and receiving care."
Rufus Cyrus, Jr. received a Bronze star for his service in Vietnam. He suffers from Agent Orange, heart and kidney disease, migraines and PTSD. He said he's happy with the care he's received at the VA, but that it was the process of getting in to see a doctor that was a problem.
"The VA has been good to me but it was a fight," said Cyrus. "They told me I wasn't in Vietnam and I was in Vietnam, I got blown up over there, just stuff like that, you know?"
"A lot of issues that were brought up were issues that people had with, not the quality of care, but the way it was delivered, the personal interaction of our staff with the veterans," added Brown. "We got a lot of good feedback today on individual issues that veterans are having and some good suggestions on what we can do to deliver our healthcare better."
"I have an issue with anger, I have PTSD, and if I express that I'm terminated from a program, and I suffer from these issues but they will not let me express myself to help me," said U.S. Army veteran Alex Stuart. "They say you're just pimping the system, not looking at the fact: who woke up and they want to be homeless? Who woke up and said 'I want to be crazy and have these mental issues and have this chemical imbalance in my brain that makes me abnormal?', and yet I'm being treated like an animal here because of that."
And while Stuart said he believes that change will come to the VA, others aren't so hopeful.
"I don't think it's going to be a big, significant change," said U.S. Air Force Veteran Benjamin Smith. "I really don't think that because that's what they've been doing all the while is talking, that's all they do is talk."
"This is just a smokescreen," added Washington. "It's going to appear for a few days and they may process a couple but they're going to go back to their ways."