Politics

Local veterans skeptical, but hopeful, about national plans to reform VA

Jonathan Sabido, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, has been waiting more than three months for an operation on his mouth. It was one of the injuries he sustained in an explosion during one of his four deployments to Iraq.
Jonathan Sabido, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, has been waiting more than three months for an operation on his mouth. It was one of the injuries he sustained in an explosion during one of his four deployments to Iraq.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald plans a sweeping reorganization of the Veterans Administration, which has been in turmoil after veterans reported waiting months for care, and deaths of veterans which some have blamed on the delays.

 McDonald described the overhaul as the largest in the agency's history. He said he would create a new "customer service" organization within the VA to "drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of our Veteran customers."

Among the changes: He plans to hire some 28,000 new medical and mental health professionals, and make the system easier for vets to navigate. He wants to create a new organization within the VA to deliver top-level customer service.

The VA serves about 22 million vets, including a few hanging out Monday at the Veterans Resource Center at Pasadena City College. They were  skeptical that the changes would be effective or lasting.

"Customer service? That's something they don't have," said Mark Castanon, an Army veteran who left the service in 2011 after 15 years.

Ex-Marine Jonathan Sabido and others questioned whether McDonald can deliver the promised changes.

"Customer service is something the VA is not known for," Sabido said. "If they could do that it would be great. It's already tough enough that we walk in there and its stressful to be there because they don't take care of us."

Sabido said he's been waiting months for a surgery to repair wounds to his mouth sustained in an explosion in Iraq.

"The VA is, besides overwhelmed with the amount of veterans coming out, it seems that they don't prioritize the veterans they need to help," Sabido said.

Secretary McDonald plans to add some 28-thousand new medical professionals to reduce wait times and improve care. One of those future workers could be Sabido, who is taking nursing school prerequisite classes at Pasadena City College under the GI Bill.

This piece is part of KPCC's ongoing coverage of issues affecting veterans for Veteran's Day 2014. See more of our coverage at KPCC.org/vets.