ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) — Local veterans are saying Veterans Affairs has had a recent communication gap in figuring out care.

It’s something Nick Stefanovic, the Director of Monroe County Veteran Services, said is unacceptable, particularly in the midst of a national mental health crisis for former service members.

Stefanovic said, in recent months, veterans have run into one big problem with the VA: clarity when it comes to treatment. 

“(The) VA has a really hard time communicating with local communities,” said Stefanovic.

He said veterans aren’t understanding the actual process for their healthcare. “I think the VA just counts on, ‘oh you’ll figure it out when you get here,'” he said.

Amy Folwell was in the Marine Corps for six years and deployed to Iraq. She gets her mental health care from the VA and has noticed there’s a hole in communication. 

“Referrals weren’t put in when they were supposed to be, and so now, that just backlogs the amount of time it’s going to take for me to actually see a therapist,” Folwell said.

Folwell said she feels left hanging for her psychological needs, something Stefanovic said that, with the national suicide rate, is unacceptable. 

“If there was an issue to prioritize right now, it would be mental health,” said Stefanovic. “We have had plenty of veterans commit suicide here in Monroe County.”

He said that under former President Donald Trump, veterans were allowed greater access to care outside the VA, which he said is a convenient choice; using medical facilities in their own communities. Under President Joe Biden, he said that’s changing as his administration looks to expand VA services.

“My understanding is that VA leadership has really been told: cut down [on community care],” Stefanovic said.

In that shift though, Stefanovic feels communication is getting jumbled on local levels. To be fair, he said, every administration makes alterations, and mistakes happen along the way.

The VA said in a statement that they’re not aware of any unaddressed concerns, saying they work hard to ensure quality access to care and to prevent any disruptions to treatment.

Stefanovic said if a veteran is in a mental or physical crisis, attention is needed at that moment. He said the VA’s policies are in their own way. 

“I’m always in favor of getting rid of red tape,” he said.

Stefanovic wanted to let veterans know that the VA is not the only service available for veterans. The Veterans Outreach Center on South Avenue offers a host of treatments and therapy programs for those who have served. 

You can read the full statement from VA Finger Lakes below:

“The VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System is staffed with qualified, dedicated professionals. We work hard to prevent interruptions in care.  We currently operate with extended clinic hours to better meet the needs of our Veterans. We have opened more clinics at Clintons Crossing and Calkins Rd, and offer Virtual appointments. The VA Finger Lakes are actively recruiting for skilled staff, we just held a career fair yesterday and are holding another one on Thursday. We are not aware of any un-addressed concerns, but would like the opportunity to assist any Veterans that are having issues.  We have a full staff of patient advocates, and we complete focus groups, actively seeking and listening to Veteran feedback. Our goal at VA Finger Lakes HCS is to ensure timely access to quality care for our Veterans, whether that be within VA or sometimes in the community. At VA Finger Lakes HCS, providing world-class healthcare to our Veterans in a welcoming and comfortable environment is our top priority and we strive to be the Veterans’ health care system of choice in our catchment area. At our 8 locations, we provide our Veterans with comprehensive health care, train future health care providers, and conduct medical research. We offer a wide range of health, support, and facility services for Veterans in upstate New York and northern Pennsylvania, including primary care, specialty care, mental health care, and social programs and services. Additionally, VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System has an active research program. We conduct research to discover knowledge, develop VA scientists and health care leaders, and create innovations that advance health care for Veterans and the nation. We offer Veterans the opportunity to participate in and benefit from our work. Our goal is to use research to promote better health and health care for all. We encourage all Veterans to use our healthcare services that they deserve and have earned in their service to our country. For more information on our services, please visit VA Finger Lakes Health Care | Veterans Affairs or call 607-664-4000 for the Bath VAMC or 585-394-2000 for the Canandaigua VAMC.”

Lydia Delgado, MHA