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CALABASH — In the wake of the nationwide VA hospital scandal about a lengthy backlog of care and waiting lists, there seem to be fewer issues locally.
“As far as a list, we’ve not seen or heard of one as far as local clinics or Fayetteville,” Anita Hartsell, Brunswick County Veterans Services director, said last week.
Hartsell attended a meeting June 16 and “found no secret list” or backlog of patient care regionally.
There were concerns about access to care, “just the fact veteran numbers have increased so much, especially with the war and the fact we’ve got Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base,” Hartsell said.
For fiscal year 2013, there were 9,000 new enrollees into the medical system at Fayetteville alone, she added.
“Each new person being seen gets an hour exam,” Hartsell said. “Part of their issue as far as their backlog is being able to see clients in a timely manner. They’re looking to improve that.”
She said there has also been difficulty recruiting and retaining personnel.
“There’s not enough doctor and staff to go around for all veterans in the health care system,” Hartsell said.
Local veterans interviewed last week said they have few complaints about the care they’ve received.
Marine Corps Vietnam veteran Bob Haight, senior vice commander at VFW Post 7288 in Calabash, was diagnosed nearly three years ago with cancer — specifically multiple myeloma attributed to Agent Orange. He’s been going across the state line for treatment at the VA Primary Care Clinic in Myrtle Beach and the VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C.
“They’re far better than anyplace I’ve ever been in my life,” Haight said. “They take good care of me. They put my wife up and myself up when we had to be down there for a couple of days for chemo or something like that, and they just bend over backward for you.”
The cost of Haight’s medication is also covered.
“The one pill I’m taking, Revlimid, for 21 capsules, it’s $11,000,” Haight said. “They cover everything.”
He said his doctor also calls him whenever there’s a problem detected from his blood work, which is done about every two weeks at the Myrtle Beach clinic.
“The doctor will call me at home and say ‘I’m going to send this medicine,’ or ‘your white blood cells are down’ or this or that,” Haight said. “I’ve never had to wait for anything.”
Since he was initially given a diagnosis of nine months to live, “whatever they’re doing, they’re doing right,” Haight said.
‘Never had a problem’
Fellow Vietnam veteran and Post member Frank Richardson has gone to the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville for numerous services, including hearing, dental, medicine and psychiatric exams.
“I’ve never had a problem,” he said. “There was a period when sometimes you’ve got to wait for an appointment, but it wasn’t anything life-threatening or outrageous, maybe six weeks or eight weeks, which, if it’s for a hearing aid or teeth, is no problem.”
Haight said they’ve also heard few complaints from other veterans about their medical care beyond “basic good stuff.”
He is also complimentary of Hartsell.
“Anita handles all my paperwork, and she is fantastic,” he said.
Fellow veteran and Post member Jerry Morano recently noticed improvements in his own VA care.
On June 13, a new hospital bed and other items arrived at the home of Morano, 75, who is wheelchair-bound from paralysis caused by Guillain–Barré syndrome, which attacks the nervous system. Morano was diagnosed with the illness, which paralyzed his entire system, in May 2013 and remained in the hospital until this past February.
“I’m still paralyzed from the waist down,” Morano said during an interview at his home off Calabash Road. “I didn’t expect that at my age.”
In the past year, the widower has dealt with issues including his hospitalization coverage running out, eight months of rehab on Johns Island, S.C., and striving to find adequate home health care.
The VA covers for a home health care team to come to his home from Tabor City, “at their cost, not mine,” he said.
With the May 30 resignation of former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs head Eric Shinseki, “I think he was probably a scapegoat,” Morano said. “But I don’t have any gripes, the way they’re treating me. When I first inquired, I wasn’t eligible, then all of a sudden I am. I’m not arguing with them.”
Amid the boxes that arrived at his house nearly two weeks ago, Morano said he also got a new air cushion and “reacher” so he can access clothes in his closet. Members of Calabash American Legion Post 503 had already built a ramp at his home less than a week after he returned home from rehab in February.
“I worked for IBM for 30 years,” said the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native. “I never really needed anything.”
It’s only been recently, through encouragement of fellow veterans, that Morano learned he’s been eligible for VA benefits for the past 50 years.
According to VA statistical data, Brunswick County has more than 13,000 veterans, though Hartsell believes the number could be closer to between 16,000 to 19,000.
She has seen improvements in veteran care, but reiterated there are still issues with recruiting and retaining professional staff.
A couple of years ago, she said there were more complaints about VA care than her office is receiving now.
“We try and either contact the clinic itself to resolve an issue, to see what can be done,” she said. “A lot of times it’s prescription issues.”
If anything really vital crops up, such as an urgent medical condition that could be life-threatening, Hartsell said her office appeals to Congressman Mike McIntyre’s office to intervene.
Brunswick County Veteran Services, in Building F in the Brunswick County Government Center in Bolivia, is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and can be contacted at 253-2233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email@example.com.