DUBLIN -- The Carl Vinson VA Medical Center on Friday gave veterans an opportunity to vent frustrations with its service, and quite a few took advantage.
In the sometimes emotional town hall meeting that lasted almost two hours, veterans voiced a common refrain: There are many good, dedicated workers at the hospital, but there are others who care about nothing but a paycheck.
Ralph Maddox, a Navy veteran from Glenwood, was one of the first to voice that concern, drawing applause.
“There are a lot of wonderful employees here,” he said, “but there a lot of people who ride the federal clock and benefits. There needs to be some employees held accountable.”
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The VA fired the Dublin hospital’s director, John Goldman, on Sept. 25, the day he was set to retire. The VA announced that an investigation revealed Goldman, in order to meet goals, signed documents that falsely represented the number of vets that had seen medical providers outside of the hospital.
A couple of veterans began shouting about that during the meeting, questioning whether Goldman was getting retirement pay. Tom Grace, the hospital’s acting director, said afterward that he thinks Goldman is receiving retirement pay.
Grace said that during the three months he has served as director, disciplinary action has been taken against some employees, but he couldn’t say whether anyone have been fired. The hospital employs about 1,200.
A new acting director will take over next week, with a permanent director expected to be named possibly by February.
Grace detailed for the crowd the steps the hospital is taking to improve service.
The hospital’s top priority, he said, is improving access for current veterans and those coming into the system. For new veterans, the average wait time to get an appointment with a primary care doctor is 60 days.
“The bottom line is, our access is not where we want it to be,” he said. “It’s nowhere near where we want it to be.”
One initiative to help that, he said, is having weekend clinics. Volunteer doctors have been serving in the clinic, as well as doctors from other VA hospitals. Partnerships also are being forged with the private sector to provide care.
Recruiting doctors to a rural area is a challenge, Grace said, but some incentives are being offered such as assistance with paying off student debt.
Efforts also are being made to improve VA clinics in the service area. A new clinic is coming to Tifton, and Houston County is getting a larger clinic.
“Houston County is one of our fastest growing areas for veterans,” he said.
Bibb County has a contracted clinic and the contract has another year on it, but Grace said the plan is to convert the Bibb clinic into a VA-staffed clinic in a much larger space.
He said new legislation to reform the VA provides funding for 56 new medical personnel. Many of those hires will be focused on alternative therapies for pain, including massage and acupuncture.
Army veteran James Sutton of Warner Robins was unimpressed.
“I think it was rhetoric, because nothing is going to come out of it,” said Sutton, who served three tours in Vietnam. “It needs to be an all-day session. It needs to go on until every veteran has their question answered.”
The meeting went on longer than planned, and questions were still coming at the end. But veterans who didn’t get a chance to ask their question were invited to submit questions in writing.
The hospital plans to hold the meetings quarterly.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.