Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Plan to bring VA health care to Carroll in its infancy

It's about a 45-minute drive for Carroll veterans to receive primary health care through the VA system - a trek several officials are working to diminish.
The idea for veterans to be able to access the Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System in the county is in the beginning stage. A group of state and local officials met to discuss and brainstorm this prospect last week to help improve the access to VA health care for Carroll's thousands of veterans.
Last November, a partnership was formed to provide free transportation to facilities in Baltimore and the VA Outpatient Clinic at Fort Detrick in Frederick. It recently expanded its service from three to five days a week to fulfill a growing demand.
With the shuttles' initial success brought another idea: creating a one-stop shop for veterans to get all the VA care they can short of hospitalizations and surgery.
Traveling outside the county can be an all-day affair. There's travel time and then sometimes lengthy waits, said Mike "Maddog" Sater, Maryland Disabled American Veterans assistant adjutant.
And that can deter some from going to the doctor, especially the older veterans, Frank Valenti, Carroll County Department of Social Services director, said at Thursday's meeting.
"We're building these barriers whether intentionally or unintentionally in the minds of these veterans," he said, "and they start shutting down with regard to trying to get service."
There was an initial meeting with a VA official when local officials first began discussing the prospect about nine months ago. On Thursday, several convened at Access Carroll for a second discussion and a brainstorming session.
At the table were officials from a smattering of departments: Valenti; Sater; Edward Chow Jr., the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs secretary; Martin Garcia-Bunuel, of the VA Maryland Medical Center; Tammy Black, Access Carroll executive director; Rita Zimmerman, Department of Citizen Services deputy director; and Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5.
The officials discussed the prospect of having care locally. Even though there is the shuttle bus, Black said it would be nice for veterans to know they can just run down the street and see a doctor nearby.
"I don't know what this will all end up being or looking like," she said, "I just know that we're here to offer the facility, the support, whatever we can do to enhance and aid in the achievement of getting these folks health care soon and as efficiently as possible."
Last year, Access Carroll - a nonprofit that serves uninsured and low-income residents - moved into a new space. Officials discussed the possibility of creating a partnership with the VA where veterans could be seen either by a VA doctor or a local physician potentially at Access Carroll.
"We're really hearing how can we bring services here rather than transporting hundreds to Baltimore," Valenti said.
There's something to be said for being treated inside one's community, said Garcia-Bunuel, Maryland director of Managed Care Clinical Center for the VA Maryland Medical Center. Valenti agreed, stating that it often increases one's comfort level.
The meeting wasn't to hammer out a plan but to begin discussing the idea. Going forward, Garcia-Bunuel will debrief VA Maryland Health Care System senior leaders. He said he would tell them that there's great support in the county for veterans to be able to receive VA health care locally.
Sater said they will present their ideas later this month at a meeting for the VA Capital Health Care Network VISN5, which comprises Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Additionally, the county hired a new part-time position called the Carroll Veteran Services Program Coordinator. Jeffrey A. Collins started Monday in the role.