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July 7, 2014

Veterans seek medical help

EL PASO, Texas — A counselor at the local Veterans Affairs office looked at Rebecca King, a victim of domestic violence and abuse who was seeking help for depression, and told her she would not be able to see a psychologist. She looked too nice and put together for someone depressed, King was told.

Like others who’ve failed to receive help at troubled VA offices, the Army veteran then gave up.

“I have a son, I’m his only support system, I have to keep it together” King recalled telling the VA office in El Paso, trying to explain why she didn’t look disheveled.

She is now among nearly 1,800 people who have turned to the American Legion, which has held town-hall meetings and opened temporary crisis centers in Phoenix, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and El Paso. People can gain access to health benefits, schedule doctor’s appointments, enroll in the VA and even get back pay.

The centers come in the wake of the VA scandal that brought to light long wait times and false record-keeping among other things, and are being established in towns where the VA audit showed wait times were longer. Between now and October, crisis centers will come to Fort Collins, Colorado; Saint Louis, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. They also plan to visit Clarksburg, West Virginia; White City, Oregon and Harlingen, Texas.

Jessica Jacobsen, deputy director of the VA’s regional public affairs office in Dallas, said the VA will use community partners, such as the American Legion, to help “accelerate access and get veterans off wait lists and into clinics.”

“This is an example of this type of partnership and how it is successful,” Jacobsen said, noting the VA is helping the Legion with the crisis centers, providing them with counselors, nurses, schedulers and benefits rates.

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