Winston-Salem VA plans walk-in claims clinic in effort to improve trust

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- When USMC veteran John Gilroy visits the Winston-Salem Veterans Affairs Regional Office, he doesn't walk; he rolls. That's thanks to the time he served with the Corps in Vietnam.

"Got shot down in the helicopter," Gilroy said. "Ended up in the wheelchair."

Paralyzed instantly, Gilroy had his first experience with the VA upon his return to the States.

"You wouldn't want to send your worst enemy to the VA in the 70s," he said.

Yet, four decades later, Gilroy says he has merely seen minor improvements in how the VA operates.

"The VA needs to come a long way," he said. "I don't believe I've heard anybody, in the last couple of years, honestly say that they were very happy."

Workers at the Winston-Salem VA say they've improved so much that the Department of Veterans Affairs has sent officials down from Washington, D.C., to look at what they're doing and see if there's anything they can implement nationwide.

"It's all about a part of restoring the trust with veterans," said Douglas Chapman, veterans service center manager with the Winston-Salem VA. "We are here and care deeply for the Veterans and their families."

At the Winston-Salem VA, they say they've cut the claims backlog from 30,122 claims in July 2013, to a current backlog of 12,352 claims. They claim to have cut Veterans Service Clinic wait times from 258 days in March 2013, to 162.8 days currently. They also say that 70 percent of their staff members are Veterans themselves.

"It's a matter of veterans helping veterans, so they have the perspective to help them," Chapman said.

Some Veterans say they've seen the improvements firsthand.

"Its response is real good. It's quicker, on time," said Wilbert Richardson, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 to 1959. "I would give them a B. Two years ago I would give them a D."

To further establish the trust between Veterans and the VA, the Winston-Salem VA is holding a Veterans Walk-In Claims Clinic and Resource Center this Saturday, Jan. 17. At said clinic, veterans will be able to get assistance and questions answered about claims, sign up for medical and educational benefits, schedule appointments, get health screenings and re-adjustment counseling.

A town hall meeting will follow, where the director of the Winston-Salem VA will give an update on the current status of the VA and answer questions.

The clinic will be held at the Goodwill at 2701 University Parkway in Winston-Salem. It will run from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Appeals training will be held from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and the town hall meeting will begin at 2:00 p.m. Officials say they will be shutting the doors to the town hall meeting at that time.