Understaffed services discourage veterans from getting help

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Credit: Michael Stout (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Today is the day we honor our veterans. One of the ways we honor them is to make sure they get the support they need after serving.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been criticized lately for lacking the staff needed to properly serve our vets. Last year, at least 40 U.S. Armed Forces veterans died while waiting for care at a VA facility in Phoenix, Arizona.

Veterans living in Santa Barbara struggle to get the care they need in a timely manner, too.

The Santa Barbara Independent recently published an article which told the story of Marine Corps veteran Michael Stout, who struggled to get medical help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

After serving as an air support operator in Afghanistan, Stout moved to Santa Barbara in August of 2013. He held a work study position for the Veterans Service Office.

“A lot of guys came in there filing claims for PTSD,” said Stout. “They started listing off their symptoms, and I began to look at what my own symptoms were, and I was like, ‘this is me.'”

He had nightmares of being shot at, even though he had never been in direct contact with an enemy. Every time a helicopter flew by, his eyes would snap into the sky.

“I knew these were not normal things to be happening to somebody,” he said.

He told his doctor. He then waited nearly a month before his first appointment.

“That was really disheartening, because that was the moment I really wanted to get the ball rolling,” said Stout.

After meeting Stout and talking to other veterans living in the region, Santa Barbara Independent reporter Tyler Hayden discovered Stout’s story was not an anomaly.

“Wait time issues, staffing issues, all those general problems in the VA are very much here,” he said.

According to Hayden’s article, local veterans have filed many more complaints with Santa Barbara officials recently, upset that their calls aren’t being answered and they’re being sent to Los Angeles for treatment.

“Veterans, when they make that step, want to be seen on their schedule,” says Stout. “It’s hard to bring something like this forward and stick with the VA’s slow schedule. It’s really easy to get discouraged and stop.”

Stout stuck with it, but not all will.