City hosts Tuscaloosa VA

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 29, 2008

DEMOPOLIS &8212; The Theo Ratliff Center was the site for a veterans&8217; health fair sponsored by the Tuscaloosa VA and other local veterans&8217; organizations.

According to Damon Stevenson, chief of stakeholder relations for Tuscaloosa VA, the event was a way to both bring their range of care to local veterans and also inform people of their specific services and programs.

In recent months, the group has been doing more outreach work in areas like Perry, Dallas and Marengo County, where large numbers of veterans seek their assistance. Stevenson said in Marengo County alone there are 1,500 veterans, 51 percent of which are enrolled for care. In nearby Perry and Dallas Counties, that number is as high as 4,000 veterans with 1,600 of them needing care.

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Through health and information fairs like this one, Stevenson said they hope to begin the process of opening satellite clinics in Selma and possibly Demopolis at a later date.

This care would benefit people like Deborah Harris, a Demopolis native and 20-year veteran of the Alabama National Guard. After serving a tour of duty in Iraq in 2003, Harris said she came home with a wealth of health problems.

Just one of the many booths at Thursday&8217;s fair was about the specific needs of women in the military. Recent census statistics show women make up as much as 20 percent of today&8217;s military.

This is an issue Harris said she can relate to.

When it comes to qualifying for care, Stevenson said a veteran can qualify for five years of healthcare through Veterans Affairs. This care is awarded based on a priority system set up in eight levels.

Priority one groups consist of those veterans with injuries or who are 50 to 100 percent disabled and require significant care, and after that the levels decrease incrementally. Due to a national directive, the VA is no longer awarding care for the lower priority levels, seven and eight.

But even with this change in the system, Stevenson said the VA system is looking to expand locally to assist as many eligible veterans as they can.