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Concerns over care from veterans toward Syracuse VA

Ryan Delaney
Navy veteran Bob Stewart, left, and Brad Edwards listen during a town hall on the VA medical center in Syracuse Thursday.

The Syracuse Veterans Affairs Medical Center got an invited earful from veterans about their care. The hospital hosted a town hall on Thursday.

The first question at a town hall-style meeting in the basement of the V.A. came from Navy veteran Bob Stewart. It was not in high praise of the V.A.

Stewart was denied coverage for surgery on his knee, so he had to pay out of pocket at a private hospital.

"I could afford to do that. There are so many veterans out there that can’t afford to do things like that. And something needs to be done about it," he said.

Syracuse V.A. chief executive James Cody responded saying there is an upper income threshold for care through the V.A.

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
Joseph Williams asks a question at the Syracuse VA's town hall.

"But once you are eligible for the care here, you can get whatever care is needed for you," he told Stewart. "We don’t just treat a knee, or an arm, or a mental illness. We treat the entire veteran here."

Other veterans had concerns over changes to the walk-in clinic or receiving care through private doctors.

The veterans’ health care network was strongly criticized this year for long wait times. Some hospitals were falsifying patient wait times, it was uncovered.

Congress has since enacted changes to the V.A. medical system. The Syracuse V.A. says it treats about 44,000 veterans a year.

Part of changes to the V.A. health system passed by Congress, is coverage for seeing doctors outside the V.A.'s network. There were questions at the meeting about how to appointments when veterans don’t have cars.

It’s a tremendous obstacle for some veterans, the hospital said.

"Work with us," said administrator Mike Vancummeran. And we’ll do everything we can, within our power, with our network and relationships with people in the community, we’ll do our very best to try to get the care the veterans need."

Other questions were about reimbursements and changes to the walk-in clinic. One woman veteran asked about opportunities to meet fellow veterans socially. Similarly, there were concerns over changes to the V.A.'s community center.

The Syracuse V.A. treats about 44,000 veterans a year, according to Cody.