Crossroads veterans rally concerning medical care

March 24, 2012 at 4:04 p.m.
Updated March 23, 2012 at 10:24 p.m.

About 80 veterans and their wives rallied outside the Victoria Out Patient Clinic on Saturday asking the public to support veterans.

"The main reason that we had the rally is to draw attention to the plight of Coastal Bend Veterans," said Richmond O'Neill, a Vietnam veteran with diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Director of South Texas Veterans Health Care System said a new clinic would be ready by May 31, when the lease for the old clinic expires, O'Neill said.

"That is not going to happen, because they still do not have a contract with a developer," O'Neill said.

It looks like the new clinic will not be open until August at the earliest, O'Neill said.

"The VA has known for three years that the lease expires May 31, 2012," O'Neill said. "They have just chosen not to get it done."

In addition to the delay on getting a new building before their old lease expires, veterans are being informed that they face cuts to their treatments.

"All of this started on Feb. 14 and 15, when the two groups of Vietnam PTSD patients were informed that as of Feb. 29, the groups were to be canceled," O'Neill said.

The Veterans Association has since canceled the PTSD group sessions for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans.

"First, we were told that it was a expense issue," O'Neill said.

In order to continue with the group therapy in Victoria, veterans from the surrounding areas said they were willing to give up the travel reimbursement they received to travel to Victoria.

The VA then said it still intended to cancel the program in favor of evidence-based therapy, O'Neill said.

"Under the evidence based therapy, you do a twelve-week, one-on-one program and then they're done with you," O'Neill said.

While some veterans prefer one-on-one therapy, many appreciate the support provided by a group setting, O'Neill said.

"The members of the group can help others work out anger issues, guilt issues and other issues PTSD causes," he said.

In addition to cutting specific programs, the VA said it will not increase the size of the local VA or provide more services until the number of veterans increases, O'Neill said

Meanwhile, the veterans face several specific health needs, including treatment for the stress disorder.

"Anyone who thinks that PTSD is not a problem, should just look at the news headlines of the past few days," O'Neill said. "The sergeant that has been charged with the 16 killings in Afghanistan has already been said to have been treated for PTSD."

So many in the VA and military think that it is a small problem that can be treated with a 12-week program, O'Neill said, but many suffer with the disorder for the rest of their lives.

"Many families are torn apart because of PTSD. Most veterans with PTSD have been divorced several times," O'Neill said. "Many of us are living on the edge, hoping and praying that the next raging anger doesn't push us over line - hoping that we don't take it out on our family or anyone else."

Because of the lack of support from the Veterans Association, veterans are now looking for a place to meet on their own to try to support and help one another.

O'Neill expressed gratitude for Our Lady of Victoria Catholic Church opening its property for Saturday's Rally, despite of the lack of support received from veterans' support organizations that were invited to take part.

"I think that the biggest disappointment of the day was the fact that of the 14 county agencies that deal with the veterans, such as American Legion, VFW, DVA Order of Purple Hearts, Catholic war Veteran's, not one showed up," O'Neill said. "One VFW member of the Port Lavaca post was there. All these group's are supposed to assist the area's veterans and promised their support of the rally. For not even one to show up was really, really disappointing."



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