VA scrambles to reschedule veterans' appointments canceled because of Florence

Posted October 1, 2018 8:07 a.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2018 5:03 p.m. EDT

— Facilities in eastern North Carolina that cater to veterans weren't spared from Hurricane Florence's wrath, and U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie toured the state Monday to assess the damage.

"Our clinic [in Wilmington] is partially open. Our cemetery is closed, as is the cemetery in New Bern," Wilkie said. "We will be taking a look at the state of our clinic in Wilmington. Right now, we have four mobile medical units on the ground, so our veterans are getting their service."

The cost of the storm's damage to VA facilities in the state is still being compiled, he said, and officials are focusing on making sure those that sustained physical damage are structurally safe to start see patients again.

The Fayetteville VA Medical Center didn't shut down, but the flooded roads caused by the storm forced officials to cancel about 17,000 medical appointments, making an already demanding schedule for veterans even more difficult.

Wilkie said teams of VA medical staffers were brought in from across the country so that appointments could be rescheduled with minimal wait times. More than half of the canceled appointments have already been reset, and VA officials are working on rescheduling the rest, he said.

"i just spoke to a group medical and administrative professionals, some of whom have come all the way from Juneau, Alaska, some from Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee to fill in the emergency gaps that are needed," he said.

Arcaster Philyaw said he couldn't make an appointment on Sept. 17 because of the storm and had to reschedule. But Leonard Brock said he was lucky because his appointments came just before Florence and more than a week after.

"[I had] eye surgery on the 10th, and I had to keep coming back after that. Then I had eye surgery on the 22th, and I was never was canceled," Brock said.

The out-of-state medical teams will continue to rotate in until the backlog of appointments is eliminated, Wilkie said.

A Fayetteville native, he said the area also faces waves of veterans seeking services. The Fayetteville VA is growing by about 2,000 veterans a month, and officials are working hard to ensure they all get the medical service they deserve and that was promised to them.