In recent months, the treatment of veterans around the country has made headlines, and not necessarily for the right reasons. Excessive wait times, and lack of access to medical care have taken the forefront when it comes to veterans services. Franklin has the only VA clinic west of Asheville and serves veterans that would typically have to travel more than an hour to receive care.
Despite national attention to veteran care lacking in the country, Macon County is working overtime to ensure that local veterans are offered and receive the highest standard of care possible.
“Macon County Veterans Service Office works closely with the Franklin VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and we have witnessed firsthand the excellent service they provide to our veterans,” said Leigh Tabor with Macon County Veterans Services. “We work together to provide the veterans in our area with the services they need. We see veterans on a daily basis who tell us how well they are treated at the clinic here. We hear often about how the staff is caring and compassionate and always willing to help. They are also excellent about referring veterans to our services so we can assist them with claims/benefits. From check-in, to medical staff, to administration, the Franklin CBOC provides quality care and our veterans are proud to be served by this clinic and its dedicated staff. We are very fortunate to have such a great clinic and neither our clinic nor VAMC in Asheville have been involved in any of the issues currently going on with the VA.”
The last report from the North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs reports that Macon County is home to 3,624 of the country’s bravest men and women. Of the veterans living in Macon County, between 500-600 seek the services offered through the county’s veterans services department.
“We here at Macon County Veterans Services are advocates for our veterans,” explained Tabor. “Macon County Veterans Service Office provides unsurpassed personalized service to veterans and their dependents in obtaining VA benefits. Strictly controlled confidentiality is maintained at all times under penalty of law. Service Officers are required to be knowledgeable in federal, state and local laws pertaining to veterans and their dependents. Our office is committed to provide innovative services and programs to meet the new and expanding requirements of an aging veterans’ population, and those veterans returning from recent wars with new and sometimes unknown disabilities.”
The county’s veterans services also includes assistance in the following areas:
With such a wide range of services provided to veterans, Tabor believes the greatest need her office experience lies in getting veterans the benefits they have earned through service. “They receive help getting assistance in applying for VA benefits such as medical care and compensation,” said Tabor. “They need access and information to all the resources that are available to them as veterans, as well as help working with local and state agencies to ensure these services are provided.”
In addition to benefits, another hurdle for many local veterans is adequate and efficient transportation. Seeing the need for a stronger network for aid in veteran transportation, Macon County’s Transportation Director Kim Angel is working to make Macon County a hub for a new project that will revolutionize the way local veterans get around.
Angel has been working to get funding to organize a multi-county transportation routine for veterans in the region. Macon County Transit, in partnership with Clay County Transit, Swain County Transit, Jackson County Transit and Cherokee County Transit are seeking to establish a One- Call/One-Click Travel Management Coordination Center (TMCC) service that will enable veterans and their families in Southwestern North Carolina to better understand and coordinate the transportation options available to them and to take advantage of lower cost public transportation options. The Southwestern North Carolina one call/one-click center for veterans (SoNCVet) project will offer vital transportation support to veterans and their families who live in the remote Southwestern region of North Carolina when seeking jobs, education, healthcare and other services.
“We are currently in the testing phase of the software, once testing is complete, Macon County will migrate to the new version of the software,” said Angel of the project’s progress. “Macon County currently uses a version of the software from HB Software Solutions. The other four counties will be trained and will migrate to the software as soon as their training is complete.”
“In the current transportation environment, lack of technology and coordination results in each of these counties providing long distance cross county and out of state trips to accommodate the transportation needs of their residents,” said Angel. “These trips are often single passenger trips that can occupy a vehicle and a driver for an entire day. A trip originating in one county and terminating in Asheville, requires that bus to pass through two or three other counties. This is a unique initiative and a first in the state that is focused on regional coordination for veterans transportation. It will bring all low cost transportation options in a single, replicable and scalable region wide system that will enable a veteran, their families, or veterans’ groups to either call one phone number or use one website to arrange transportation for employment, college, events, medical appointments, social activities, children’s transportation and other activities.”