One local veteran is saying that “it is a shame that better health care is not available” to men and women in the area who have served their country.
Scotland County resident Jerry Mims said on Tuesday that he hoped a rally held across from the Hamlet VA clinic earlier in the week might send a message to those in charge that something needs to be done.
Veterans from Scotland and Richmond counties gathered in a parking lot across from the Veterans Affairs Community-based Outreach Center in Hamlet to express their dissatisfaction with the clinic.
The veterans say they are concerned with the unavailability of primary care physicians at the VA clinic.
Along with many of those veterans, Mims signed his name to a petition asking that more permanent primary care doctors be assigned to the Hamlet facility.
“I’d like to believe (the petition) will help, but it really is not the fault of the people who work in the clinic, or even the people who work (at the VA hospital) in Fayetteville,” Mims said, directing blame to a lack of federal funding. “The government will do what the government wants to do, but it is a shame that so many vets need help and can’t get the proper care, whether here or in other places all across the country.”
Mims has learned since the rally that an additional doctor has been assigned to the Hamlet clinic.
The problems, however, are said to extend beyond a simple lack of staff.
“We’ve had a lot of guys who have had problems with doctors not filling out papers timely,” said Lacy Shepherd, North Carolina Commander of AMVETS. “One doctor is not able to care for five counties. This clinic was put in the wrong place. It was rented, and should have been built like the others. Pembroke has a nice facility, with a complete staff. Now veterans from Laurinburg are going to Pembroke.”
The Hamlet center has a multi-county reach, and includes Richmond, Scotland and Anson counties, as well as Chesterfield County in South Carolina. The Hamlet VA serves approximately 1,200 veterans and was designed to serve 3,600 veterans for years to come, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs in Fayetteville.
Shepherd said that although the VA tells patients they can email their providers directly, the providers do not give out email addresses.
He was alarmed when a doctor prescribed him medication without physically examining him, and was alarmed in another instance when he heard from another vet that his doctor spent the entire appointment filling out paperwork on a computer instead of speaking with the patient, so he could hurry back to Fayetteville.
Other area veterans are supportive of the local clinic.
Corey Gibbon of Rockingham is a Vietnam veteran who has been disabled for most of his life after the war. He was awarded a purple heart. He said he is satisfied with the services and treatments he has received through the clinic.
“I’ve been going to the VA since 1970,” said Gibbon on Friday. “They’ve been good to me. I had cancer last year. I had my right hip replaced on January 15. I had my left hip replaced in August. They have been just outstanding. They put me a ramp up at my house. I got a scooter. If it hadn’t been for the VA, I’d have been dead.”
Gibbon said he knows some of his veteran friends in the area are taking part in the petition signing. He doesn’t agree with that approach.
“This is not going to do anything but hurt us (veterans),” said Gibbon. “We are lucky to have that place. (The veterans) have a choice; they don’t have to go to this clinic. There is no guarantee of benefits. They could close this clinic.”
Gibbon said patience is part of what has kept him happy with the VA. He said he waited a year for his first hip.
Fayetteville VA Medical Center Director Elizabeth Goolsby said she was surprised to hear that veterans were gathering to garner signatures after the recent announcement that the Hamlet clinic would soon have two full-time providers.
“I spoke to one individual last week who is spearheading this, who said the veterans were concerned there wasn’t a second provider,” said Goolsby on Monday. “I told him one was hired and would begin in September, which he said he was well aware of. Hamlet is a difficult area to recruit for but we have been successful. I just hope this negative publicity won’t deter the provider from coming to Hamlet. I am committed to the health care needs in Hamlet, but I need the cooperation of veterans in the area to attract and keep well qualified providers there. I want to provide care close to home, with high quality and access to new technology.”
Goolsby said there are two appropriate avenues available to veterans who are dissatisfied with the clinic or care they are receiving. She said veterans can go to the clinic and talk to the nurse manager or they can visit the VA website, www.fayettevillenc.va.gov, and at the bottom of the page, click “Ask The Director,” which allows veterans and their family members to send comments or questions directly to Goolsby.
Dawn Kurry of the Richmond County Daily Journal contributed to this article