Remus: 'We're dumping our problems on these guys'
Veterans advocates said Wednesday that their real emergency is at the Veterans Affairs Regional Medical Center in Fargo.
The lack of full emergency medical services is a serious deficiency, and one that veterans in Fargo-Moorhead routinely encounter, said Tom Figliuzzi, veterans service officer for Clay County.
Instead, the VA medical center has what would more accurately be called an urgent care center with extended hours, said Launette Figliuzzi, veterans service officer for Cass County.
The comments were made at a veterans' summit at Moorhead City Hall with veterans, veterans service officers and staff of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
Officials from the VA were not at the summit and could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.
As a result of the limited emergency medical services, local ambulances have a protocol and won't take patients with a list of conditions to the VA medical center, because the services are not available.
Those veterans are taken instead to the emergency room at Sanford Health or Essentia Health for treatment, Tom Figliuzzi said.
Unless veterans got preauthorization to seek treatment outside the VA system - something that rarely happens in medical emergencies - they can be left with expensive medical bills if they don't have other coverage, he added.
"Have they not earned the right now to have a full emergency room?" Tom Figliuzzi asked in an interview following the meeting. Veterans are told they will get full medical coverage, but that isn't always the case, he said.
Veterans advocates also said there is a lack of programs for homeless veterans in rural areas.
Greg Remus, the veterans service officer for Hubbard County, said he often refers homeless veterans to Fargo-Moorhead, adding, "We're dumping our problems on these guys," referring to Cass and Clay county veterans service officers.
"My concern is once you leave the major metropolitan areas, there is no homeless program out there," Remus added. "That's an issue out there for us."
Nathan Arch, an aide for Franken, said lack of funding is often the underlying reason for service gaps confronting veterans.
The officials agreed to try to find ways to strengthen veterans programs and to provide the services they have been promised.
"The VA now has to take care of the veterans," said Jim Beckstrom of Moorhead, who was an infantry soldier in Vietnam.