By Geena Martinez
BIG SPRING - The VA hospital in Big Spring is speaking out Wednesday after coming under fire by veterans. On Monday, those veterans protested, claiming the hospital is getting rid of vital services. They also believe the facility is getting ready to shut down.
NewsWest 9 spoke with officials who said there are important reasons why changes are happening at the hospital, but that won't change their stance on quality care for all veterans.
Feeling angry and unappreciated, dozens of veterans took to the streets on Monday protesting the VA hospital.
They said the Big Spring hospital is cutting back on services they need and now the hospital is defending itself.
"We are very saddened that they feel that way, however, our VA medical center is changing with the times," Community Relations Coordinator, Iva Jo Hanslik, said.
Hanslik said the VA strives to provide the best care possible but protesters don't agree.
One of their main concerns, there's no longer an emergency room.
"A review team came here and reviewed all the services that we were providing here at this facility," Hanslik said.
She said after that review, the hospital downsized to an urgent care center, and it can no longer offer emergency services.
Veterans said they're then left to foot the ER bill, but Hanslik said the VA looks into every situation.
"We have to review the cases and make sure they qualify for that health care," she said.
Another issue for veterans is the patient to doctor ratio. They want less waiting periods.
"Recruiting physicians to Big Spring is a real challenge," Hanslik said.
She said more than 17,000 veterans use their services.
"The majority of those veterans are in the Taylor, Tom Green, and Ector and Midland counties," Hanslik said. "Because veterans are living in the Abilene area, in the San Angelo area, in the Midland/Odessa area, we have got to provide services for them too."
Hanslik said while they may be cutting back in one area, they're always expanding in others like the Telehealth program.
It allows veterans to have a conference with their physicians via television, saving them travel time.
But she wants veterans to know, safety and quality care will always be their top priorities.
"We will have the appropriate staffed care for that veteran," Hanslik said. "What we do here, we're going to do well."
Hanslik wants to stress that they fought to keep the hospital open and have no plans of shutting down. They encourage veterans to come and visit with them about how they're doing and anything else they have concerns about.