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In The Wake Of Fort Collins VA Scandal, American Legion Offers Help

Grace Hood
American Legion is holding a week-long health clinic in Fort Collins to connect veterans with VA appointments and care.

Just one of several events held across the country, the American Legion is visiting Fort Collins, working to assist veterans after the Veterans Affairs health care scandal. The VA outpatient clinic here was part of nationwide problems involving appointment wait times — which the VA has connected to 23 deaths.

At every visit the formula is the same: Day One is a town hall to collect comment. Day Two and going forward is a command crisis center to help vets reschedule appointments and follow-up on claims.

Ralph Bozella, with the American Legion’s so-called System Worth Saving Task Force, said one of their goals is to re-empower vets after problems accessing medical care.

“The criticism was justified,” said Bozella.

A VA investigation found that clerks at the Fort Collins clinic were instructed how to falsify appointment records to make wait times seem shorter. Almost 3,000 vets had appointments canceled and were unable to reschedule them — although the VA says those estimates are high.

While most veterans attending the town hall meeting had finished their service decades ago, the frustrations with the VA are still raw.

Frank Skolnick, who served in the U.S. Air Force during Vietnam, said he’s been trying to get an eye exam for nine months now.

“Today got a phone number of a patient advocate to talk to in Cheyenne,” he said. “I don’t know when I’ll get my appointment, but this is my story.”

Following the town hall, VA  Spokesman Daniel Warvi stood inside the command crisis center. After scheduling problems were revealed, he said training was conducted at the Fort Collins VA clinic — and for all outpatient medical clinics under the Cheyenne VA medical center umbrella. Nearby, veterans are scheduling or rescheduling appointments and discussing benefits claims.

At one table, Robin Morgan is getting his picture taken for an identification card. The Vietnam-war veteran came to make sure he’s registered in the VA system.

“I didn’t hear anything or didn’t listen well enough to know what I was supposed to do next,” said Morgan. “I came in again today and they said, ‘You’re already in there.’ So I actually did it three months ago and didn’t know it.”

Morgan said he’s pleased with the help he got. But conventional customer service wisdom suggests that happy customers don’t talk much about their experiences. Those who are unhappy talk more.

Spokesman Daniel Warvi said the VA is trying to make improvements.

“We make sure we don’t shy away from the criticism,” Warvi said. “That we’re here and answering, ‘This is what happened to me what are you guys doing about it?’ And we’re here doing that.”

The American Legion will run the Fort Collins crisis center, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 17. The center wraps up Friday 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. It’s located at American Legion Post 4, 2124 County Road 54G, Fort Collins.

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