SEMINOLE — More than 300 veterans, some whose service dates to World War II, turned out at Congressman David Jolly’s district office Tuesday to offer perspective on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health benefits.
For Jolly’s staff, it was key that everyone had a place to sit - and nobody waited too long.
The Republican Dist. 13 congressman and his staff, as well as VA officials, were on hand to hear the questions and concerns of veterans who have received medical care through the agency. It comes amid controversy surrounding the VA, which has been widely criticized for, among other things, an immense backlog of patient claims that caused unnecessarily long wait times, even for some in dire need of care.
Yet while many came to Jolly’s office at 9210 113th St. Tuesday seeking solutions for problems with their own care, they also came in concern for their comrades.
“I don’t do it for myself,” Vietnam veteran William Zibell said. “I do it for these kids. The mission they have is so much different than ours was in Vietnam.”
Zibell and others stressed that the quality of the care has been good, but the bureaucracy has been getting in the way; so much that it could be scaring off younger veterans.
Those who were there to call attention to their own cases complained of excessive wait times and being denied certain treatment methods a private insurer likely would allow.
Korean War veteran James Desser said he waited months to get his teeth pulled and replaced with dentures.
“I had to go out and spend $3,800 of my own money to get my teeth,” he said. “I’ve been eating soup and milk shakes for a year.”
Derek Peeples, 25, a former operations specialist whose injuries cost him use of his lower right leg and forced him to retire at 22, carried a stack of folders filled with documents pertaining to his case. He said that as a result of five service-related injuries he suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, which causes intense burning pain and severe swelling in his foot. He said he is determined to walk again despite problems getting adequate treatment.
“It’s always been a trial,” his wife, Candi Sicard, said. “It feels like climbing a mountain that we’ll never get to the top.”
Peeples said his interaction with Jolly’s staff was positive, and he’s cautiously optimistic that his issues can be resolved.
“Hopefully, if the solutions can be worked on through the VA this will be a benefit for all veterans, not just myself,” Peeples said.
VA officials said the events like Tuesday’s are an important avenue for veterans seeking access to the agency, and the department plans to look at each case.
“The congressman’s office and our representatives heard both concerns and compliments today covering a wide range of topics,” said Bay Pines VA Healthcare Center spokesman Jason Dangel in an email. “For our healthcare system specifically, it is our standard practice to individually acknowledge and address concerns and compliments timely and appropriately.”
Jolly said some veterans Tuesday spoke highly of the care they’ve received.
“We’ve heard a lot of compliments,” he said. “The quality of care is something that we hear a lot about. The attention that individual employees at Bay Pines provide, it’s very special, and we need to recognize that every day.”
Jolly stressed that veterans are welcome to contact his office any time if they have issues with their health care.
“As we begin to work on long-term reforms, I want to make sure that we have all the information,” he said.