Health care providers from the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System and Fort Benning were greeted Friday with a standing-room only crowd at the Columbus Public Library for a town hall meeting.
Nearly 150 veterans from all branches of service filled the auditorium to hear about improvements in health care, staffing and relocation of the Columbus Community Based Outpatient Clinic on 13th Avenue with shared services at the Fort Benning VA Clinic on Bass Road.
Robin Jackson, acting director of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, said staffing is a big priority in serving veterans at campuses in Montgomery and Tuskegee. With a staff of 1,400, Jackson said 200 more positions have been filled, but the goal is to reach a staff of 2,200 to meet the needs of veterans.
Leah Griffin, acting director of facilities and engineering, said all veterans services in Montgomery will be housed in a new building when it opens in October.
At Fort Benning, the July 6 opening of the joint clinic on post dominated much of the meeting. Jackson said 18 services offered at the clinic on 13th Avenue will be moved to Fort Benning. The new 19,000 square-foot clinic offers more space to provide more services to veterans.
Some veterans were concerned whether they will have access to the pharmacy at Fort Benning.
“You are going to have access to ours,” said Col. Scott B. Avery, commander of Martin Army Community Hospital and Army Medical Department Activity on post.
Avery noted the wait time to refill a prescription at the pharmacy on post is reduced.
Veterans didn’t get the answer they anticipated when Avery was asked about getting access to all health care services on post.
Avery said that wasn’t possible.
Many veterans complained about the time it takes to see a primary care physician.
One veteran said it now takes up to a year for service.
Dr. Randall Weaver, a family practice physician, is familiar with such cases with veterans. “It may depend on what’s going on with you,” he said.
Most veterans were pleased with the information from the town hall meeting.
Arthur Mahone, a Korean War veteran from Columbus, came to get information on service for his hearing aids. “I have to go to Tuskegee,” he said. “I thought they had service at Fort Benning.”
Moses Jennings, a 68-year-old Vietnam War veteran of Columbus, said he gets good health care at the Columbus clinic but the move to a bigger location should have come a long time ago. “I ain’t got no complaints,” Jennings said. “I get good doctor’s care.”
Joe L. Smith of Phenix City said he gets care from the Veterans Affairs, but he also has a private doctor. “It’s alright,” he said of the VA health care. “I’m smart enough to have a private doctor.”