Veterans continue VA change protest

Clark and about 30 veterans and union members picketed outside Bill Hefner VA Medical Center Friday to continue their opposition to proposed service changes at the hospital.

Since the plan was announced in October, veterans groups in Salisbury and the American Federation of Government Employees have been voicing full-throated opposition to the move.

David Cox, national secretary/treasurer of the AFGE, said they are fighting the proposed changes.

"They veterans deserve to be taken care of," he said.
A Department of Veterans Affairs plan recommends the hospital close its emergency department and in-patient intensive care beds and surgical units.

The Salisbury VA hospital would focus more on long-term and mental health services.

Hospital administrator Carolyn Adams said in October that no changes would be made until the VA has proper contracts in place with private health care providers to serve veterans.

But veterans say they don't want to go to a private hospital — they want to go to the VA hospital.

"If we go to a private emergency room, then we will wait in line," said Zane Robertson, one of the organizers of the picket. "At the VA, we don't wait in line."

Clark, a veteran from China Grove, said he supports his fellow veterans in their cause. So does John Gilroy, who is in a motorized wheelchair from injuries suffered in Vietnam.

"I think this is a step toward contracting out all veterans care," he said.

The outcry about the service changes has prompted a full review of the plan by VA Secretary James Peake. In a letter written in October, Peake said he would the results of the review by Nov. 15.

"Our plan must and will consider and respect the perspectives of all stakeholders, especially our veteran patients and VA employees," wrote Peake. "In addition, I will ensure that the plan provides personal assistance to veterans who may be affected by any proposed changes. We will also work with the employee union and with individual employees who could potentially be impacted by any changes to offer opportunities to continue working at the Salisbury VAMC or at other VA facilities."

Sen. Dole sent a letter to Secretary Peake in October asking him to stop the proposed services changes. His review was in response to that letter.

"Veterans care is so unique that it has to be performed by the VA," Cox said, "and we will fight to keep it that way."

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