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National Secretary’s REPORT
From Convention To The Holidays

BY BARRY HAGGE
Before I jump into a more detailed report about our investigative trip to Puerto Rico, I would like to urge our brothers and sisters to join us for the upcoming Leadership Conference and 30th Anniversary being celebrated at the Conference.

Many have heard of the online National Secretary’s Info Center and have asked how a chapter can gain access to the information posted on the site. The answer is simple and totally dependant on your State Council President and Regional Director. We have asked the Regional Directors to take a leadership role in this project and supply email addresses of the chapters in their regions.

You ask: What is the Info Center? It is a secure section of the VVA website where information (sometimes more than you want) is posted as it becomes available. You can read about the work of the national committees, the latest on the efforts of the VI, public relations info, and government affairs news at the Info Center. Information is posted as it happens. You do not need to wait for a mailing. All your chapter has to do to get connected is to give your State Council president your chapter email address.

PUERTO RICO VAMC & CEMETERY
Region 4 Director Carol E. Schetrompf and I recently traveled to Puerto Rico to help form a new chapter and to review the progress at the San Juan Medical Center and the status of the National Cemetery.

Carol and I, along with Jorge Pedroza, visited the VA Hospital in San Juan. Upon entering the new section, which looked very beautiful decorated for Christmas, we found it to be very nice and clean. Not many people were in the lobby area. We found out that the clinics are held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On those days, patients are stacked three deep.

The waiting lines for the pharmacy usually have over three hundred people and have been known to have upwards of a thousand. When we were shown the other areas of the hospital, we found the conditions deplorable. The few waiting rooms are small and cramped. Construction was being done, but we could not find out what the construction was for.

At the mental health area, we found that there is only a thirty-bed ward to take care of all mental patients, including PTSD patients. There were no separate rooms for female patients—all are put in the one open ward. The case load for the psychologist is three hundred patients, but she is only able to see about ninety patients per month. One doctor, who asked not to be identified, said that more staff is needed for the PTSD clinic but that the “powers that be” are very slow to staff the Mental Health Clinic.

The doctor told us that the VA had started a new appointment system, that all the previous appointments were thrown out, and that the computer-generated system was pushing patient appointments back six months. The doctor didn’t decide on follow-ups, the computer did—and not satisfactorily.
Parking at the hospital is horrendous. If you have an appointment at two o’clock, you had better get to the hospital by 9: 00 a.m. to find a parking place.

There are three thousand veterans in the Virgin Islands. They have only one small clinic and must fly to Puerto Rico to visit the VA Hospital. It is becoming more and more difficult for both the patients and the hospital facilities.

From the VA Hospital, we went to the National Cemetery. It’s a beautiful location, but they will be out of room by 2016, if not earlier. The VA is looking for more acreage, but to date none has been found that would meet the VA requirements.

On December 14, we met with the Puerto Rico State Council for a question-and-answer session. We found that many veterans who receive 100 percent disability ratings are afraid to leave their homes for anything other than a doctor’s appointment. They have been told that if they are seen out of the house or shopping, their ratings could decrease. They are also encouraged by VA hospital staff to “keep their mouths shut.”

We laid a wreath at the Veterans Memorial, and I offered a few words after the wreath laying. From there, we all met for a lunch and continued talks with the members of the State Council. Our Puerto Rico VVA members are very proud of their island, and they have reason to be proud of what they have accomplished.

Based on what we learned in Puerto Rico, I have the following recommendations:

  1. Pressure must be brought on the VA system to allow physicians to schedule patients when they feel patients should be seen again.
  2. Quickly find additional land for the National Cemetery.
  3. Look into the VA clinic on the Virgin Islands and see if it is adequate for the three thousand veterans who live in the islands.
  4. The parking problem of the VA Hospital in San Juan needs to be fixed. At present, there is talk of adding more parking spaces, but it would come at the cost of taking away three floors of in-patient wards. The patient wards are not adequate now.

Our brothers and sisters on the island continue to carry the torch of VVA. The fight continues.

 

 

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