SC vets give VA officials an earful at town hall meeting - - Columbia, South Carolina

SC vets give VA officials an earful at town hall meeting


Hundreds of veterans showed up to a town hall meeting at the Columbia Regional VA Office Thursday night.

The meeting, which got feedback straight from local vets, is part of dozens across the country required by the VA Secretary.

The meeting just looked at the benefits side of the coin. All Dorn and health-related questions weren't answered in the town hall.

The Director of the Regional Office, Leanne Weldin, defended her record. But some vets see things differently and gave the director an earful.

"The VA is just waiting for us to die or quit," said one angry vet at the meeting.

Earl Ravenell of Charleston was one of many who came with an open-mind, but left frustrated.

"It took me an hour and a half," Ravenell said. "I thought it was going to produce something, and it didn't."

As ordered by newly-appointed VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the Regional Office in Columbia opened its doors to get feedback from vets and their families.

"Our ratings quality had gotten as low as 84 percent back in 2012, and now we're between 92 and 97 percent accurate in our ratings," said Director Weldin.

Weldin told dozens of veterans the Regional Office, which handles claims and benefits, has improved.

"A couple years ago, we had more than 24,000 veterans waiting for a disability claim decision in Columbia, and right now, we have 14,000 veterans," Weldin said.

But an Inspector General report from just last week loomed over the meeting.

It found staff here did not accurately process 40 percent of the disability claims it reviewed and gave Weldin a list of recommendations.

"Eighty-nine claims out of the 18,000 claims we have finished since last October was what they looked at," Weldin said. "Very small sample size. Of those 89, they thought we should have done better."

Ravenell said despite all the statistics, the claim process takes too long.

"I was talking to a young lady, she was waiting for 10 years," Ravenell said.

And for others, this meeting did little to restore trust.

"I have an issue with the fact that these guys had to come up here and voice their concerns in a public forum in order to get somebody to go, 'Okay, we're going to help you. Go see this guy here. Now,'" said Chip Albritton.

There's no word yet on when the medical center will hold its town hall meeting.

Secretary McDonald gave an explicit order that all benefits and healthcare facilities must hold town hall events by the end of September.

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