Brazos Valley veterans voice health care concerns at town hall: “We just need help”

Rep. Pete Sessions hosted the town hall and promised to “make measurable progress.”
Published: Jul. 31, 2021 at 9:01 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) -Veterans didn’t hold back their frustrations Saturday at a veteran health care town hall hosted by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-District 17).

One by one, veterans took to the mic to share their stories of hardships and concerns with the VA health care system. They shared experiences that included the lack of communication with the VA, lack of specialized local care, claims and billing disputes, and long wait times both on the phone and for appointments.

Sessions and his team listened to every complaint and concern for more than two hours.

He assured the group that help is on the way and promised measurable progress.

“I promise that I will be back within the month, and we will not only make measurable progress with those, but we will also have a communication plan that will help every single person that needs help.”

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-District 17)

Andrew Bement, a veteran of the Marine Corps, suffered a brain injury while serving. He says getting timely care from the VA has been a challenge and one of the main issues is getting the VA on the phone.

“If you call the VA, it’s a guaranteed 20 to 40 minute wait to speak to someone,” said Bement. “You’ve got to wait on hold for the operator, who then waits on hold to talk to somebody else, and you never actually get to talk to somebody. You can only really leave a message.”

“There are certain things you can do, schedule appointments or request refills for medications,” said Bement. “But if you want to call your doctor and talk to them, it’s damn near impossible.”

For Bement, he also says that transportation is a major challenge due to his brain injury, and he wishes the VA would emphasize specialized local care.

“This is a very rural area that we live in, and getting care out in the community is really important. The closest VA hospitals are an hour and a half away, both in Waco and in Temple, which means anytime you needed to go to the hospital, it’s at least three hours. An hour and a half drive there and an hour and a half drive back. The time you spend at your appointments is not included there,” said Bement.

“Driving myself with a brain injury for three hours is not possible, which means now I need to either find a ride and get somebody else involved or get a shuttle, and there’s definitely no public transportation up there here,” said Bement. “So community care is incredibly important, and getting timely community care through the VA is impossible right now.”

Bement says he’s heard promises like the ones given at Saturday’s town hall before and hopes it will be different this time around.

“As political as they were, they heard what we were saying, and I do genuinely believe they are interested in helping, but I don’t have much faith because that’s what everyone says when they listen to you. ‘They hear you. They want to fix it.’ But there’s just no real ownership of the problem. No one who’s saying this is something ‘I will personally make sure happens’ because they can’t guarantee that. So it’s just all hearsay until that happens.”

Andrew Bement, a veteran of the Marine Corps

Joe Leavengood, a retired Airforce military lawyer, injured his back in Bagdhad. He says he shares the same challenges as other veterans at the town hall.

Leavengood says he believes the VA has too many gatekeepers and that it is preventing veterans who need help from receiving it.

“They’ve set up a system of gatekeepers. People you have to go through before they actually decide to send you to get this treatment at this facility,” said Leavengood. “If you’re in the system, if they’ve decided you’re in the system, even then, they have lots of gatekeepers. It’s far too many people you have to go through before you get to see an actual medical care provider, someone that’s an expert in solving the problem.”

After hearing accounts like these, Sessions says he’s committed to working with the VA to solve the challenges in the Brazos Valley. He says he understands the issues and is working on cutting through what he calls ‘red tape.’

“There’s too much red tape in the VA, and we’re going to make sure these veterans service officers get the help that they need directly through my office, working directly with the VA,” said Sessions. “The ideas that people expressed today are realistic.”

“Back in 1997, when I became a member of Congress and represented Brazos County, the expression was they wanted a veterans clinic,” said Sessions. “They wanted something here that could handle routine matters, somewhere where they could come to receive the help they needed. What the discussion is today is a thankfulness for what is here, but that it needs to be expanded.”

The Representative says his office is in the process of planning another veterans town hall in August in Caldwell.

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