“We have squat up here and we’re trying to get something that will benefit everyone.”
Advocates for Rim Country veterans continue to push for a Veteran’s Administration Clinic in Payson, hoping to save local veterans the aggravation of a drive to Prescott for many basic services.
The effort has mostly proceeded quietly behind the scenes, with a year since the last public meeting. However, last week backers met with Congressman Paul Gosar, members of his staff and representatives from both VA facilities in Prescott and Phoenix, including Donna K. Jacobs, the director of the Northern Arizona VA Health Care System based in Prescott. Participants included local veterans Jim Muhr, Bill Herzig and Bud Huffman.
The discussion on Aug. 8 focused on how to best reach out to homeless veterans about the services already available. VA representatives stressed making sure veterans know the homeless veterans hotline, (877) 424-3838. Homeless veterans, especially those with mental issues and those with families, are a priority, said one of the VA representatives.
Using the term “military service” instead of “veteran” is critical in reaching everyone who is entitled to the VA benefits, a representative of the organization said. Many who are entitled don’t believe they can get the benefits because they did not see combat. Any man or woman who served in the military is entitled to benefits, the VA representative said.
Getting those benefits, especially medical services, will remain a challenge for many Rim Country veterans.
In spite of almost a year of work, a local clinic with more complete services is still only in the talking stages. The leadership at the Phoenix VA facility has changed since the meeting last September. Sharon Helman was appointed director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System Feb. 26.
Muhr said his group met with the new director in July and she seems to be someone the committee can work with. He and his group are waiting for a meeting between the Phoenix and Prescott VA officials. “They need to work together,” Muhr said.
“They are in the process to find a way to serve all veterans,” Muhr said of the two VA administrators.
“Numbers drive the train,” said one of the VA representatives at the meeting.
The committee has struggled all year to get a handle on the number of veterans in the area. Muhr said he believes they almost have the required number to get more movement on the clinic, but he thinks between 1,000 and 2,000 Rim Country veterans don’t make use of any VA services. Part of that is the mistaken belief that they are not entitled to services because they were not in combat.
The issue of an actual veterans’ clinic for the Rim Country didn’t get a lot of traction. A possible alternative to a board and brick clinic is the use of telemedicine, which is already an approach in place at the Prescott VA clinic, Jacobs said. The Payson Regional Medical Center has also been expanding its use of telemedicine, which uses a high-speed Internet connection to facilitate consultations and even patient exams.
“We should identify a whole group of clinics that can serve them so the veterans can stay home,” Gosar said. “Why build new facilities instead of contracting with existing ones?”
“We have squat up here and we’re trying to get something that will benefit everyone,” said Huffman.
“We don’t care about your problems. Fix it and take care of the veterans where they are. Let them get blood work and other work at PRMC,” said Herzig.
Also on hand at the meeting was Payson Unified School District’s Ron Hitchcock, superintendent, and Susan Campbell, homeless services coordinator.
Gosar’s office asked school district representatives to participate to discuss the district’s homeless student population and whether or not they were the children of veterans. The displaced child of a parent in the military or a veteran can get access to certain benefits, although the federal representatives did not detail them.
Campbell said about 20 percent of the district’s students are homeless. However, the district’s paperwork does not include an inquiry about parents’ military service.