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South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)

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South Texas holds Victoria Town Hall

Director Robert Walton is sitting down in front of several Veterans discussing health care.

Prior to the start of the March 9 Town Hall, Victoria, Texas Veterans ask the South Texas VA Director Mr. Robert Walton questions about the transition to the new secretary. (VA photos by Lupe Hernandez and Laura Sparks)

By Steve Goetsch
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On March 9, The Director of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS), Mr. Robert Walton, and several key personnel representing the Choice Program, Homeless Veterans Program, Primary Care and Customer Service, converged on Victoria College’s Emerging Technologies Complex for the STVHCS quarterly Veteran’s Town Hall.

Joining the effort in providing the attendees the most up-to-date information were several veteran service organizations and staff from Texas Representative Blake Farenthold’s office.

The evening kicked off with an information fair for Veterans to get handouts and direct information from program managers.

Prior to the start of the official program which consisted of an overview of the latest changes to the VA Healthcare System, followed by an open Q&A session, there were also local updates. Walton discussed the efforts of the Human Resources Service, and how they have recruited, processed, and were close to onboarding several key vacancies in the Victoria clinic, including a Chief Medical Officer.

Those vacancies worried those in attendance, including one Veteran, Martin Garcia, who was there representing Disabled American Veterans Chapter 169. “The healthcare in the crossroads area is wonderful,” Garcia said. “I am a little concerned about the recruiting of doctor’s though.”

Martin went on to say he always looks forward to the town halls because he finds many of the Veterans he serves in his district do not have the latest information about their benefits.

Providing information directly from their sources is exactly the reason for the town halls that was started almost two years earlier by then VA Secretary Bob MacDonald. 

An image of a room with Veterans sitting down waiting for the speaker

The Victoria College Emerging Technologies Building begins to fill up prior to the start of the March 9 town hall. In additional to traditional updates and Q&A sessions, this town hall offered an information fair beforehand.

Walton echoed that sentiment, thanking the audience, and explaining why he brings his staff along on the annual trek to Victoria. “I always look forward to providing updates to the Veterans here, and hearing the feedback, so we can improve their Veteran experience.”

Many in the audience thanked the VA panel for authorizing, recruiting and hiring a nurse practitioner, which has already made great strides in improving access. The panel included Dr. Vicki Hannigan, Associate Chief of Staff for Ambulatory Care, and Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Supervisor, Michael Walljasper, who provided a briefing on the claims and appeals processes.

The Veterans had many questions for the specialists in the room, which ranged from managing prescriptions, to the difficulties with the Choice program. Any questioned that was not answered or resolved immediately was logged by a customer service team that brought questions and concerns back to the main campus in San Antonio, and vetted them for appropriate action.  W

Vietnam Veteran Bob Shand said he comes to these town halls to offer a counterpoint to those Veterans who have not had the same experiences he’s had. “I’ve never had a disappointing experience with the VA,” Shand said.

“I get what I need, when I need it,” he added, but said that it is not the same for all Veterans. He went on to say that VA healthcare should be free and available to those who’ve served, period.

The staff members, who were copiously taking notes on all the Veterans’ recommendations, which included improving communication between the VA and its contractors, portability of their care, and even bringing a coffee pot with them at the next visit.

The STVHCS rotates town halls between Victoria, Kerrville and San Antonio.  Fortunately for the Veterans who live in the San Antonio area, the next town hall is slated at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in June. Please stay tuned for those town hall dates and other events on our social media pages www.facebook.com/SanAntonioVAMC

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