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Vets express concern over VA office closure


Last updated 6/14/2011 at Noon

When dealing with bureaucracy one often needs the help of someone who can interpret the language and assist in filling out the accompanying forms. Veterans and their survivors often have unique situations to deal with. Their problems can cover many situations. A veteran may be dealing with a service connected disability, need a specific piece of medical equipment, or it could be the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran trying to untangle the many requirements for survivor’s benefits.

Veterans of the Orange County area have been lucky enough to have had competent help in the Orange Veterans Affairs office. The local office has helped hundreds of veterans and their families since the inception of the office. The recent temporary closing of the office due to internal problems caused many veterans to be stressed as to the status of claims that were being worked on by the office staff, and left many wondering what would happen and where they would have to go to continue their claims.

Jerry Gatch, the Executive Director of the Stark ’64 Veterans Association was one of those veterans. Gatch had begun working on his claim to have his over 40 year old service connected disability re-evaluated.

“I met with my caseworker at the VA office and started the work on the claim. I received a 20 page, very confusing form to fill out. I took the forms to the caseworker and asked her for help. She told me to go to my medical appointment in Houston and leave the claim with her, she would take care of it,” said Gatch. “My appointment in Houston was scheduled for June 15. Things were moving along and then I got a phone call on May 31 telling me that my June 3 appointment with my caseworker was cancelled until further notice. I waited a few days to see what was happening.”

Gatch became concerned for himself and fellow veterans. One course of action he took was to e-mail the County Commissioners about his concerns. Another action was to visit Congressman Kevin Brady’s office. He was told at Brady’s office that they had probably had hundreds of contacts from people concerned about their claims.

After the commissioners concluded their investigation and took appropriate action, the Orange office was reopened.

Gatch was fortunate enough to be able to resume his claim with his caseworker. Other veterans were not so fortunate.

Veterans who had dealt with dismissed caseworkers can take their files to the Beaumont office temporarily. The county will have transportation to Beaumont on Tuesdays and Thursdays for those that do not have a means to get there or don’t want to drive. Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said advance notice would be needed for those going by bus. Notify them by Friday for a Tuesday trip and by Tuesday for Thursday. Thibodeaux said the extra time is also needed so the Beaumont VA office can staff properly. Call Orange County Transportation at 409-886-1783 to reserve a seat.

Appointments will resume in the Orange office June 27. Commissioners hope to have the vacant positions filled by then; if not, then appointments may have to be pushed further back.

The Orange VA office has provided benefits for some veterans from other areas who were unable to get results in their home area. Allen Ardoin a veteran of the U.S. Army from the Cold War era needed a motorized wheel chair when he lost mobility in his legs. Ardoin is a resident of a nursing home in Sulphur, La.

“I tried for about two years to get a motorized chair. I went to one VA office and tried the VFW and could not get anything done. Someone told me to try the Orange office and see if they could do anything for me. I had my nephew take me to Orange and met with the people there and in three months they got me the chair I needed,” said Ardoin.

In spite of the recent events at the Orange VA office and any negativity as a result of the closing and resulting disciplinary action the office performs a valuable service to the area veterans. Veterans that need VA services are often dealing with disabilities that make travel difficult. Often, surviving spouses needing services are elderly, also making travel difficult.

The need for a local office staffed with competent caseworkers cannot be measured in dollars and cents. The Orange office has been an invaluable service to the veterans who have given so much to our country. It appears from the reports of veterans from all branches of the service that the local office is able to meet the needs of many veterans.

“The Orange office has a great track record of dealing with disabled veterans and their spouses and helping them deal with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They have the knowledge to deal with the forms and other confusing things that face veterans. When we have to go to Houston it makes for a long, tiring day. It is nice to be able to deal with things here at home,” said Gatch. “I would like to thank Vita at Congressman Brady’s office and Commissioner Jody Crump for providing me with information during the office closing.”


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