VA Town Hall

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By: Megan Way and Hank Dace | Photos by Su Phelps
On July 31, 2019, the VA Southern Nevada Health Care System held a Town Hall to give information to local veterans about recent events and to answer questions from local veterans. Panelists for the event were:
• Charles Ramey, Chief of Public Affairs
• Franko Fritz, Director of the VA Reno Regional Office
• William J. Caron, VA Medical Center Director
• Dr. Komanduri, VA Medical Center Chief of Staff
• Fred Wager, Deputy Director of NDVS
Also in attendance were Alanna Simpson, on behalf of Senator Catherine Cortez Masto; Terry Care, on behalf of Congresswoman Dina Titus; and Nina Ridgeway, Chairwoman of Southern Nevada Veterans Community Engagement Board. They were all recognized and thanked by the Panelists for attending.
One of the first questions asked was how the VA plans to improve customer service at the facility. Medical Center Director William J. Caron said that one of the customer service goals is to answer telephone calls promptly and to provide the veteran with a “one call resolution” whenever that is possible. He acknowledged that the “one call resolution” is a difficult challenge because of the complexity of the VA healthcare system. He further explained that the VA measures the average speed to answer the telephone calls as well measuring a variety of other factors needed to determine whether calls are being dealt with promptly and efficiently. The Call Center and the Pharmacy are doing well, but he stated there is work to be done in some of the outlying clinics. He stated work is underway to add personnel and to improve the process itself.
A retired Army Reserve veteran asked about actions being taken by the VA in regards to decreasing and eliminating veteran suicide. The statistic of twenty-two veteran suicides per day has been holding steady for the past year. Chief of Staff Dr. Komanduri stated, “It’s a horrific tragedy. Even just one veteran suicide is horrible, and twenty-two a day is just unacceptable. We know that, and it’s our top priority at VA to prevent that.” He went on to indicate that the majority of veterans who have committed suicide were not connected to the VA. However, the VA has established partnerships with the National Mayors’ Challenge and with local communities. Those partnerships established protocols so that local organizations are asking distressed individuals if they have served in the military. The local communities are then taking the step of getting the individual connected to the VA when it is appropriate. Dr. Komanduri also indicated that the VA is now offering some mental health services here for other-than honorably discharged veterans. That was a veteran group that didn’t previously have access to mental health services. Further, the VA does outreach to the jail and prison systems. Dr. Komanduri stated that the VA knows it still has a lot of work to do to address the suicide and mental health issues.
Fred Wager, Deputy Director of NDVS, added that the NDVA has an individual on its staff that is very involved in the National Mayors’ Challenge. He said that progress is being made, but there is still a long way to go. He did note that Nevada last year decreased the number of veteran suicides, “not by much, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Another question, directed to Frank Fritz, Director of VA Reno Regional Office, asked what steps a veteran could take to make sure his or her Agent Orange claim is being expedited and processed properly. Mr. Fritz indicated that the veteran can obtain the full list of conditions presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange at va.gov under disability-eligibility- hazardous-materials-exposure to see the whole list. Such conditions include, but are not limited to, lung cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart conditions, prostate cancer, and Parkinson’s. He stated that, if a veteran has one of the conditions listed and was exposed to Agent Orange while in the military, “there is no barrier to receiving benefits.” However, he went on to say that many times veterans state they were exposed to Agent Orange, but are not suffering from one of the listed conditions. Mr. Fritz believes that situation is what causes the confusion about Agent Orange disability claim eligibility.
Another question asked about new 2019 legislative that might be of interest to veterans and survivors. Deputy Director of NDVS, Fred Wager, indicated that important additional funding for Veterans Homes was earmarked during the 2019 legislative session. Those funds will allow for a study in the Southern veterans’ home as to feasibility of offering adult daycare services.
If there are VA questions you would like to have answered, you are able to submit those at: iris.custhelp.va.gov/app/ask.