Poplar Bluff VA responds to area vet's plight

Wednesday, June 13, 2007
After serving overseas in the U.S. Marine Corp., Jolani McCanless has struggled with the Department of Veteran affairs in his attempts to receive benefits. McCanless was discharged from the Marines in 2006, then moved back to Oak Ridge with his parents, Terry and Melody McCanless. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

The John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff, Mo., took several steps in the last week to make sure newly discharged veterans don't miss out on promised medical benefits, hospital administrator Nancy Arnold said Tuesday.

The effort is a response to the case of Jolani McCanless, a Marine from Oak Ridge enduring a frustrating round of misplaced paperwork and miscommunication with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Following a Southeast Missourian article on McCanless on June 2, the Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran received five calls June 4 and since has had several visits with VA doctors, said his father, Terry McCanless.

Jolani McCanless was unavailable to comment because he is still adjusting to new medications prescribed for the mental and physical issues that resulted in his discharge, Terry McCanless said. But the family is pleased with the response from VA officials.

"It was an excellent response," Terry McCanless said. "By Wednesday morning, he was in for an appointment for a full physical" at the Cape Girardeau Veterans Affairs clinic, "and the next day he was down at the hospital."

Steps taken to ensure veterans don't get confused by or lost in the system include the designation of three hospital workers as the primary contacts for new enrollees, Arnold said. In addition, she said, directives have been sent to each clinic detailing the actions that should be taken when a veteran who is not being served at a location such as the Cape Girardeau clinic comes in for services.

"We are hiring additional staff to support the incoming veterans," Arnold said. "But we took three existing staff who work with the veterans who come in and identified them by name to everyone."

Initially the hospital had named two staff for the job, but at times both are busy and a third was needed, she said. "At the present time, we are getting a very manageable number of new veterans," she said. "We are getting an increase, but it is not a flood."

Terry McCanless attributes many of the problems associated with his son's care to a lack of experience dealing with new enrollees with war-related issues. No other conflict since the Vietnam War has had the same number of wounded veterans being discharged.

"They are being hit with a whole new swarm of wounded," he said. "I can understand that."

Raising awareness within the system of issues for new veterans will be a satisfying result of the delays and difficulties Jolani McCanless dealt with, Terry McCanless said. "There are going to be other guys coming in right behind him and saying, 'Where are we going to go from here?' He is looking out for the other guys."

Arnold didn't deny McCanless was dealt with poorly but said the hospital and the entire VA system wants improvements. "As long as we have human beings doing business, there are going to be things that slip through the cracks, and we do everything we can to identify the issues," she said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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