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VA ratings stretch from ‘scared to death’ to one star to ‘like really wonderful’

Veterans seek answers to health care concerns

Information from town hall meeting serves to help Biloxi VA improve.
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Information from town hall meeting serves to help Biloxi VA improve.

The interim director of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Biloxi said he came to hear the good, the bad and the ugly and the dozens of veterans who showed up at the Recreation Hall of the Biloxi campus didn’t disappoint.

Veterans had problems as small and easily remedied as the size of the print on prescriptions for drugs and as large as a patient who had “lost all respect” for one of the physicians.

But clearly the VA has made some headway addressing concerns of veterans at last year’s town hall when one veteran said he was scared to death about his health care.

Interim Director Christopher Saslo said the VA has brought in physicians, practitioners, physicians assistants and a total of 400 employees since then in an attempt to improve wait times. The average wait time for an established patient, he said, was eight to nine days. For a new patient, it “hovers around 24” days.

He said the Health Center was implementing a new phone system that would queue up calls, allowing the caller to hang up and later receive an automatic call back when a VA employee becomes available. The unanswered calls and messages were a common complaint.

“Our phone system has been a challenge since the day I walked through the door,” said Saslo, who started in 2014. And he said since President Donald Trump signed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 in June, there is added urgency to correcting patient service problems. “It didn’t get broken overnight and it’s not going to get fixed overnight.”

It didn’t get broken overnight and it’s not going to get fixed overnight.

Interim Director Christopher Saslo

There is much room for improvement. The center is part of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, which this year received one star on a scale of five on a quarterly rating scale.

Still, several veterans came specifically to compliment the Health Center.

“I could go on and on about all the good things that happened here,” said Linn Whiting, who said he went to the ER with a collapse lung and praised everyone involved in the case from the receptionist to the doctor.

And Vietnam veteran Alan Joseph of Gulfport said he believe he would have been either “dead or in jail” if it weren’t for the VA.

“I can’t express how grateful I am for the wonderful care I’ve been getting here at the VA,” he said. “The kindness and caring — it’s so good it leaves me speechless sometimes.”

He said eight or nine years ago, it wasn’t that way, but recently went from “minus to like really wonderful.”

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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