Former Gov. Charlie Crist sat down with a group of veterans Friday to listen first-hand to their experiences and thoughts on how best to serve those who fought for the U.S.
“Some of the things we’ve touched on today are new to me,” Crist said.
Among those new issues are a lack of services geared to women veterans.
Among the new insights Crist said he gained was the disconnect that exists between the diagnosis of medical issues and the time it takes for the Veterans Affairs Department to decide whether a veteran will be classified as disabled and what benefits the veteran will receive.
A year appeared to be the average, the veterans said, but some knew of three-year waits for benefits.
“They want to fight the war, but they don’t want to pay for the consequences,” Bill Walker of Seminole said. Walker is a veteran of the Vietnam War.
“It sounds to me like there’s a probably a significant resources issue,” Crist said.
It’s great, he said, that the veterans stated that they could get medical appointments quickly and that the medical personnel and equipment are the best. But, Crist said, “if you are denied, denied, denied, what good is that? It is unconscionable that that should exist, particularly for you. … Justice delayed is justice denied.”
A related problem, Crist said, is the lack of an advocate for veterans who can help them maneuver through the system. That’s something, he said, that a member of Congress could do by having a veteran on staff whose job was to help other veterans.
That idea of constituent service is a theme that Crist has frequently repeated at campaign stops.
Crist is running for the Congressional District 13 seat held by David Jolly. Jolly is also facing a challenge in the Aug. 30 Republican primary from retired Gen. Mark Bircher. Crist, a Democrat, will face the winner in the Nov. 8 general election.
The veterans at the roundtable discussion opposed privatizing the VA.
“That’s a horrible idea,” said one. “There would be no oversight. … It would be catastrophic. [The VA] is the only institution that can care for veterans.”