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Witness Testimony of Mr. Clayton P. "Sonny" Degrees, Jr., Department of Louisiana, State Commander, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States

While there are numerous problems within the VA Health Care System I believe that the main concern of the majority of veterans in Louisiana is the rebuilding of the VA Hospital in New Orleans. Some people are against rebuilding a hospital in Downtown New Orleans. They think it should be moved to another location due to the fact that another hurricane like Katrina would cause costly damage to a new facility. The vast majority of  veterans living in a 23 Parish area feel differently.

The Downtown New Orleans VA Hospital serves as the main source of health care for almost 150 thousand veterans within this 23 Parish area. Without this facility there would be a terrible hardship placed on local outpatient clinics as well as the other two VA Medical Centers in the state. Not only that but also other VA Medical Centers in Mississippi and Texas. Many of our veterans would have to go to these out of state Medical Centers for specialty care and diagnostic exams that cannot be preformed in the Outpatient clinics.

This is reason enough to rebuild the VA Medical Center in Downtown New Orleans.

One of the other important reasons is that VA Medical Centers must rely on University Medical Training Facilities to be able to staff their Primary Care Clinics and Specialty Clinics within the VA hospital facility. If rebuilt in the Downtown New Orleans area there would be three medical training facilities for doctors and nurses that the VA Medical Center could potentially draw from on a daily basis. The reason this is necessary is that the VA Health Care System does not receive mandatory funding therefore they do not have the funds to hire an adequate force of  VA doctors and nurses to handle the patient load.

The use of Student Doctors and Nurses does present a problem with the amount of time a veteran has to spend at a clinic which leads to large delays in veterans obtaining appointments in clinics, especially the specialty clinics. For example, a veteran checks into a clinic for a 9:00 a.m. appointment. VA in many cases schedules as many as 50 veterans for the same time and they are checked in on a first come first serve basis. A veteran may wait as high as  an hour or more then goes in to see a Student Doctor. The Student Doctor asked a number of questions and the veteran explains his/her problems. Then the Student Doctor goes and confers with the clinic's head doctor which in turn comes in to the room and the process is repeated again. By the time the veteran leaves he/she has spent as much as two hours in the clinic. This is one of the reasons the system bogs down and it takes veterans so long to get an appointment. Proper funding of the VA Health Care System would allow VA to hire a well trained medical staff adequate enough to handle the patient load.

Finally, there is the issue of clerical staff at the VA Medical Centers. In recent years the VA's inclination to hire unconcerned people has truly amazed me.  Many of the clerks project the attitude that they are doing the veteran a favor by just being there instead of realizing that without the veterans they would not have a job. And, the situation is getting worse by the day.  There is entirely to much socializing during working hours between female employees and male employees. In most cases this slows down the check in process for the veterans. While these are not all the problems with the health care system, it does give one a picture of what goes on during a normal day at most VA facilities.

I will not be able to attend the hearing in New Orleans on Monday, however I have contacted the District 1 Commander Marshall Hervron who will be making contact with you today. He and I have talked and he can adequately express the position of the Department of Louisiana Veterans of Foreign Wars.  If you need anything further from me then don't hesitate to contact me.