LITTLE ROCK, Ark — Veterans across Arkansas are using a teleconference to work on their VA benefits and save themselves trips to the Little Rock Regional Office.
It's proving to be so popular that local officials are expanding the concept to more parts of the state.
"Most of our veterans, they enjoy it," said Cortez Wilson, a legal benefits specialist as he spoke into a headset and looked at a feed of his co-worker on his computer screen. "They don't have to travel as far. I think that's the best part about it."
It's not that a trip to the state's biggest metro area can't be fun, but a trip to the regional office in the Fort Roots complex in North Little Rock can be a hassle.
"There are many veterans that physically can't come to Little Rock to take care of their benefits business," said Jay Mergenschroer, a public affairs officer for the VA.
He described how a veteran or their family can go to one of 13 locations, either in what are called Community-based Outpaitient Clinics or a VA hospital. They can make an appointment, log on to the computer terminal, and speak with someone in the regional office.
"The veterans seem to love it. They don't have to travel to Little Rock. It's convenient for them," said Latisha McClinton, another legal benefits specialist.
"They like the fact that they can just come into an office and talk to us and get their business taken care of without having to drive two to three hours to the office," she added.
McClinton said she handled a lot of calls from Jonesboro. Other centers in Paragould and Texarkana are proving to be popular, and spare vets at least two hours of driving.
Officials are noticing other benefits as callers opt-out of more traditional calls to giant phone banks in other parts of the country.
"They really build a rapport and they know who that person is," Mergenschroer said. "It puts a face to it. You're not just calling the big VA 800-number. You're calling Bob in Little Rock."
And with 225,000 vets getting about $80 million a month in this region, you can expect programs like this to expand.
"What we would like to see in the future to possibly public libraries and other places that are even closer to the veterans' homes," said Mergenschroer.