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Veterans’ protest targets VA scandal

Friday, June 20, 2014
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Dan Wilcox, of Albany, holds flags in front of the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany on Thursday during a Veterans for Peace protest to demand adequate healthcare for veterans across the country.
Dan Wilcox, of Albany, holds flags in front of the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany on Thursday during a Veterans for Peace protest to demand adequate healthcare for veterans across the country.

— A group of local veterans gathered Thursday outside the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center to protest deplorable health care treatment offered at some VA hospitals, while praising the hospital they stood in front of and VA care in general.

What members of Veterans for Peace are asking for is more funding to treat a growing influx of vets in need.

“This place is pretty good,” Tarak Kauff of Woodstock, a Vietnam-era Army veteran and national VFP board member, said. “Overall, the VA care is better than you will find in the private sector. The problem is there are too many war veterans coming out.”

While long wait times covered up by Department of Veterans Affairs officials led to a scathing report and the resignation of VA Secretary Eric K. Shineski, an audit determined the Stratton VA Medical Center saw the overwhelming majority of its patients within an acceptable timeframe.

Veterans for Peace is staging protests across the country in the wake of news this spring that Department of Veterans Affairs officials falsified records to conceal how long veterans had to wait for appointments. It was learned that veterans at a Phoenix VA hospital were put on an unofficial wait list and 84 percent had to wait more than two weeks to be seen.

At the Stratton VA Medical Center and its 12 outpatient clinics, 97 percent of its patients were seen within 30 days, and 94 percent within 14 days. The longer waits were often experienced by patients needing to see specialists.

Still, the eight people at the front entrance to the Stratton VA Medical Center on Thursday said they want to raise national awareness of the growing need to provide medical and mental health treatment for veterans.

“The effort was put forth by Veterans for Peace National,” said John Amidon, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran and president of the VFP Albany chapter. “We are concerned about veterans’ care across the country.

“It’s not just an Albany issue. I believe the VA hospital in Albany is more effective.”

Stratton VA Medical Center spokesman Peter Potter said the local protest was a reaction to national news and not what was happening in Albany.

“We’re set for growth,” he said, “but we don’t rest on our laurels. You can always do better.”

The Stratton VA Medical Center handles about 380,000 visits a year from 54,000 to 58,000 veterans.

“I’ve had service here at the VA in Albany. ... It’s been very good,” said Jay Wenk, an 87-year-old World War II combat veteran who lives in Woodstock. “Personally, I’ve had nothing to complain about. But others elsewhere had a totally different experience.”

 
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