ELKINS -Local veterans will be given the opportunity to meet with representatives from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., at one of several stops during upcoming veterans outreach events slated throughout the state.
Local veteran leaders said the number one topic that will be discussed is health care and the issues facing the Veterans Affairs Hospitals.
"West Virginia is one of the most patriotic states in the country, and we are proud of the number of veterans and active duty members who have served our military and served honorably and proudly," Manchin said in a press release for the tour.
"That is why representatives from my state offices will travel to select veteran-centered locations to meet with veterans and those who serve them."
Nearly 20 stops are planned in the state, including visits to Elkins, Moorefield, Marlinton and Petersburg.
Elkins resident Roger Ware, commandant for the West Virginia Marine Corps League and the Elkins Marine Corps League commander, said a lot of veterans feel disenfranchised by the VA hospital right now.
IF YOU GO
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will be making the following stops to meet with veterans:
Time: 6-8 p.m.
Location: John M. Golliday American Legion Post 64
225 North Main Street, Moorefield
Time: 1-3 p.m.
Location: HW Daniel American Legion Post 29
326 Railroad Avenue, Elkins
Time: 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Location: McClintic Public Library
500 Eighth Street, Marlinton
Time: 2-4 p.m.
Location: American Legion Post 78
2099 North Fork Highway, Suite 1, Petersburg
"There is a lack of specialists at the Clarksburg VA," he said. "They have to send a lot of patients to different locations to see specialists."
Ware said the lack of doctors expands beyond just specialists, noting there are more patients than the doctors can handle.
"The VA has a difficult time getting doctors because of lower pay," Ware said. "They can make more money working elsewhere. There are too many patients and not enough doctors."
Ware said the wait time for veterans to see a physician is very long. He said the VA places veterans into different categories and that is how they are seen. The higher categories are for veterans who have service-related injuries, while those without such injuries are in the lower categories, he said.
The categories help create the back log of patients at the VA hospitals, Ware said. He noted veterans in the lower categories choose to go to the VA because it is less expensive, but that helps create longer wait times.
"I would say there will be discussion about Iraq and if the military should return," Ware said. "The United States' foreign policy needs to be revamped. We can't continue to keep helping all these other small countries, it is wearing out our military."
Ware also expressed concern that not many veterans will attend the meetings or be reluctant to discuss their issues.
"Many of the veterans do not want to drive to hear someone speak," Ware said. "Veterans believe they are wasting their time by bringing up issues because they feel it doesn't make an impact."
Jake Roberts, an Elkins resident and president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Tygart Valley Chapter, said the visits are a good idea, but he feels politicians are pandering to veterans because it is an election year.
Roberts said there was a lack of VA representatives informing veterans of what services they are entitled to once they leave the military.
"Most veterans don't know what services they are entitled to," he said. "The information pipeline is missing."
Roberts said there should be more "service officers" in the Mountain State to facilitate and help veterans acquire the services and benefits to which they are entitled.
He also said the VA categories need to be examined and that there is a need for more VA doctors.
Moorefield American Legion Post 64 Commander Michael Coby said veterans' health care will be the most talked-about topic during the stop at his post. He said the recent relocation of the Veterans Clinic in Petersburg has made it difficult for veterans.
"The clinic moved further away from the hospital," he said.
Coby said veterans visiting the clinic often have to make another stop to get services such as x-rays that are not provided at the clinic.
"Veterans are having to make an additional trip and have additional work to get the care they," he said. "It used to be a one-stop shop."
The number of staff members also declined when the move occurred, causing longer wait times, Coby said.
"There are 1,600 veterans that go to the clinic," he said. "For such a small area it has a large amount of veterans."
Coby is encouraging veterans to attend the meetings.
"We are hosting it as an open meeting for all veterans in the area," he said.
Coby noted the tour seems to have good intentions, but he is afraid the government will try to fix the problem by throwing money at it, as opposed to working on the root of the problem.
"It feels like veterans are being forgot about when they return home," he said. "He (Manchin) is showing concern and that he is aware of the issues."