S.D. American Legion launches search for area veterans waiting for VA medical care

S.D. American Legion launches search for area veterans waiting for VA medical care With more than 300,000 U.S. military veterans waiting for appointments at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities around the country, The American Legion is looking for local veterans who are on that list and willing to be heard.

Dubbed "I Am Not a Number," a nationwide American Legion campaign will gather testimonials and survey information from veterans waiting extended periods of time for care at VA health-care facilities. These testimonials will be delivered to lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in March.

Survey forms are available by calling South Dakota American Legion State Headquarters in Watertown at (605) 886-3604, your local American Legion Post, by visiting The American Legion National Web site at www.veterans.legion.org or by calling toll-free (866) 539-2509.

A veteran does not have to be a member of The American Legion to participate in the survey. There is no obligation or cost.

"Our goal is to provide personal testimonials and hard facts about how long these veterans have been waiting, so we can provide our elected officials with real people, real constituents, who are not just numbers," South Dakota American Legion State Commander Walt Lindemann of Eureka said. "VA is currently faced with a demand for health care that it cannot meet. Continued budgetary shortfalls, rising medical costs and increased enrollment have led to increased waiting times."

VA estimates that approximately 600,000 new patients will enroll in the system in 2003, bringing the total patient load to nearly 5 million by the end of next year.

VA issued a memo to all directors in its network to stop marketing for new veteran patients eligible to receive care in the system.

"Restricting enrollment does not improve deliver of care," Commander Lindemann said. "We intend to make the case that the VA needs mandatory funding and enough of it to wipe out this horrific backlog and treat these dedicated Americans as they should be treated."

The American Legion hopes to have all survey forms returned to its Indianapolis National Headquarters by Feb. 1. The 2.8 million-member American Legion is the nation's largest veteran's organization.

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