About 20 veterans and relatives of service members met at a forum Saturday morning and their message was clear: Improve veterans' access to health care and other services.

Attendees discussed issues including communication with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the excess of paperwork in health care, and a lack of access to medical specialists.


At the event at Baltimore's War Memorial Building, Paul Connolly, quartermaster for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8065 in Bowie, said the communication between veterans and their service providers should be improved. Connolly said he worked for 35 years in the insurance business and the Department of Veteran Affairs should emulate standards he practiced.

"We were required to notify a claimant if their claim was pending for any reason, and that's something the Department of Veteran Affairs doesn't do," said Connolly, 66. "And I blame us veterans for taking it."

Rebecca Stone, a veteran and member of the Governor's Commission on Maryland Military Monuments, said she organized the event to promote communication about veterans' needs and to "close generational gaps."

"I want to have a discussion about where the kinks are," she said.

George Owings, secretary of the commission, said the health care approval process for veterans should be simplified.

"We don't need reams of paperwork," he said.

Bob West, 67, post commander of the Bowie VFW Post, said there is a lack of medical specialists available to veterans. Stone agreed, saying the lengthy processing of new hires in the VA system deters doctors, who ultimately take other jobs.

Stone also led discussions about training for veteran service officers, volunteers who act as a liaison between veterans and the Department of Veteran Affairs, and the "unconscious biases" she and other female veterans face.

Her husband, Jon Stone, said people can be disrespectful unintentionally, by assuming that he — and not his wife — is a veteran. "You go into a place that offers a [military] discount, and they look to me and say 'Thanks for your service,'" he said.

Jon Stone is a veteran of the United Kingdom's military.

A second forum was scheduled for the afternoon.