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5 April 2017-- Unity Township American Legion Post 982 hosted Westmoreland County’s first VA Town Hall on the Move on Tuesday. 1st Vice Commander of the Post, Matt Zamosky, MSgt, USAF Ret., welcomed the attendees and led the Pledge of Allegiance. About 95 audience members packed the room, eager to interact with VA decision-makers from Pittsburgh’s VA Medical Center and VA Benefits Administration.
Zamosky, also the Director of Westmoreland County Department of Veterans Affairs, opened the evening by outlining some of the services provided by the staff of his office.
Karin McGraw, MSN, Director of the Medical Center, thanked the assembled veterans and family members for their service and saying, "My grandchildren are growing up in the most wonderful country in the world because of you.”
Ms. McGraw and other VA staffers provided updates including:
Veterans registered with the VA in the Pittsburgh region should be receiving the new hard copy Newsletter. If you didn’t receive the first issue, please update your postal mailing address on https://www.myhealth.va.gov/ . The next issue will arrive in mailboxes in May and they plan to produce three issues annually.
January’s water restrictions at University Drive: Ms. McGraw stated that VAPHS staff tests more than is required to prevent any recurrence of Legionnaire's earlier outbreak. During the system shutdown that began in January, they also replaced substandard plumbing throughout the system to ensure the highest water quality for veterans and staff.
The Park and Shuttle at Highland has been used less than had been expected so will be discontinued May 1st. However, the VA will be upgrading valet parking service to improve access for medical appointments at University Drive. Further, schedulers will space clinic appointments out throughout the day to alleviate parking jams in the morning.
The Veterans Appointment Request app can be used to schedule appointments for physical and mental health. Visit the VA App Store https://mobile.va.gov/appstore to download the free app.
Veterans eligible for travel reimbursement will now receive a pre-paid debit card which can be used anywhere VISA or MasterCard is accepted. Obtain your card at the travel office.
Co-pays for prescriptions have changed. See current amounts at https://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/resources/publications/hbco/hbco_copayments.asp
The new contract for the Westmoreland CBOQ will be finalized in May for award by the end of 2017. Every effort will be made to retain current staff members.
Eligible veterans can obtain VA ID cards at the CBOQ. Visit Vets.gov to obtain a hard copy veterans ID card for use at commercial outlets offering a military discount. Note that this card is not a photo ID.
Next, VA staff took questions and fielded complaints from attendees. In several cases, veterans with specific needs were immediately connected with one of the several VA staff member at the Town Hall to log in to the VA system and begin resolving problems. While some of the questions raised were specific to the speakers’ situations, several topics arose that were of general interest.
A Vietnam era veteran expressed frustration that the DAV van from Greensburg cannot accommodate those with later day appointments, necessitating his use of the Altoona van-- and a 12+ hour day--for a medical appointment in Pittsburgh. Ms. McGraw stated that all clinic personnel have been directed to fit in veterans presenting at their clinic appointment that day even if they are late, and advised patients to inform staff that you’re using government travel when this caused you to miss your appointment time.
A veteran commented that veterans across the eras are not receiving adequate information on getting VA benefits. Ms. McGraw stated that VA has made a concerted effort at Welcome Home events and others for transitioning veterans, encouraging them to get enrolled in VA healthcare. Billboard space and radio/tv interviews have also been used. It was acknowledged that when service members are transitioning, they're not focused on ‘getting out and going home’—and information on accessing benefits in the future is not a high priority. Westmoreland County Veterans Affairs plays an important role in keeping County veterans informed and providing claims assistance and information on other VA benefits on an on-going basis.
VA Vocational Rehab & Employment (VR&E) was touted as more than just a program for education and employment counseling. VRE can also help adapt your home so that you can stay in it, through the Independent Living program, which can assist individuals who are not currently able to work because of the effects of service-connected disabilities. http://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/
Burial benefits: Ronald Hestdalen, Director, National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, reminded attendees, "Pre-planning is the key,” and suggested visiting the funeral home of your choice and bringing your DD-214. At that time you can fill out the headstone request and discuss military honors the veteran rates.
Westmoreland CBOC: Mary Jo Zubaty, Clinic Administrator, Westmoreland County Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), encouraged all to take an enrollment packet next time they’re at the CBOQ and share with a fellow veteran. These can be returned to the CBOQ for confirmation “within a week." She also stated in response to a question that expect to hire a new social worker within the next two weeks.
An American Legion rep offered to do an educational session on request to community groups large or small. Staff from the Westmoreland County Department of Veterans Affairs does frequent outreach events—call them with questions or to schedule a speaker at 724-830-3530.
A veteran requested clarification on the likelihood of a reduction in disability rating when filing subsequent claims. Jennifer Stone-Barash, Director, Pittsburgh Regional Benefit Office, stated that a reduction in benefits is highly unlikely and would requires two exams which indicated improvement. In response to a follow-up question, Ms. Stone-Barash also stated that in the event that an benefit appeal deadline runs out, the veteran can re-establish the claim, although this starts the clock over as well.
VA representatives thanked Legion Post 982 for hosting and the audience for attending.
Westmoreland County Veterans Affairs reminds veterans and their family members that no one should pay for claims assistance. Our staff can either assist you or refer you to the appropriate veterans service organization for assistance. Visit us on the web at http://www.co.westmoreland.pa.us/index.aspx?nid=390, call 724-830-3530, or stop in to our office on the 2nd floor of the Westmoreland County Courthouse at 2 N Main Street, Greensburg.