Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2014

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Vets wary, hopeful as VA panel’s visit nears

Southern Nevada veterans are hoping a visit this month by a Veterans Affairs advisory committee will prompt improvements and not simply be an exercise in preelection-year posturing.

The three-day visit by members of the VA's Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Advisory Committee will include an opportunity for local veterans to air gripes.

Veterans say their concerns include inadequacies within the VA satellite clinic system that replaced the centralized Addeliar Guy Ambulatory Care VA Clinic four years ago, and the need for more specialists so veterans don't need to make so many trips to Southern California VA hospitals for acute care.

The 17-member committee was formed in mid-May by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson following reports of substandard care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

The committee will advise Nicholson on ways to improve VA programs serving veterans of the war in Iraq.

"I'm all for a town hall meeting , because it will provide a forum that can bring about change, but I'm also a little skeptical about the timing with the presidential elections next year," said Earl Bishop, commander of American Legion Post 40 in Henderson.

"Committees tend to make news and come up with reports , then things die down and nothing happens. We need to make sure people are watchdogging this committee."

Peter "Chris" Christoff, director of the local American Independent Veterans and a community activist who often is critical of government, says he is optimistic that a visit by such a large and important Washington-based veterans committee can improve things.

"I cannot remember a committee of this status coming to Las Vegas to hear what veterans have to say," Christoff said. "It can be productive only if veterans show up in large numbers and voice real concerns."

Christoff said he also is concerned about the ramifications of a visit so close to major elections, but says the visit also demonstrates the political significance of Las Vegas, which long has had one of the nation's fastest - growing veterans populations.

Others are far less optimistic that the meeting will produce anything.

"I don't know what they are coming out here for," said Las Vegan Morley Gordon, a veteran of the Korean War. "The VA has already done the damage by wrongfully shutting down the Guy clinic in 2003."

Short of building a facility in northwest Las Vegas before 2011, "there is not a lot they can do to improve things here," he said.

Alison Aikele, special assistant to the assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs, said committee members, who will be in Las Vegas from June 26 to 28, plan to visit the O'Callaghan Federal Hospital at Nellis Air Force Base and an outpatient clinic, among other related sites.

The only event open to the public will be the town hall meeting at 7 p.m. June 27 at the Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road .

The committee was formed after Nicholson presented recommendations from a presidential task force to improve services to the nation's latest generation of combat veterans.

The committee is headed by retired Lt. Gen. David Barno and consists of veterans who were wounded in recent wars, family members, leaders of major veterans organizations and longtime veterans advocates.

"This group of people have experienced war and our system of care and can advise me from first-hand experience on how we are doing and what we need to do better," Nicholson said in a news release.

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