Suncoast VA chief of staff speaks out

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- As veterans, military personel, and their families voice concerns over the time it takes to get medical attention and treatment in the VA Healthcare System, the chief of staff of Bay Pines VA Healthcare System speaks out.

Dominique Thuriere is a very busy woman as chief of staff of Bay Pines in St. Petersburg, the fourth largest VA healthcare system in the nation in terms of number of veterans served. “We serve a 103,000 veterans per year.”

And those numbers are going up. “It has increased over the past several years,” says Thuriere. “It's a challenge, but we continually work on insuring that our veterans are seen timely. Of course any veteran who has an urgent or emergent need is seen immediately.”

Suncoast veteran Dwayne Slayton uses the VA Healthcare System. He just had thyroid surgery. “When they took it out and did the biopsy, they found out it was a rare form of cancer, and it turned out to be Stage 3, Stage 4.”

Slayton, also a musician, has special considerations to protect his voice. He says he's been treated well at the VA since 1979. “They've treated me like a piece of glass most of the time.”

Service officer and VA chaplain Jay Fouty of Sarasota says of Bay Pines that they try their hearts out, but there is a challenge. “It's not just that they can't get to them, it's just that they're overwhelmed. I think it's more that they're just overwhelmed.”

His opinion of local clinics is high. “I’ve found the clinics to be tremendous.”

Thuriere says the amount of doctors and medical staff is increased. Over the past few years they put a lot of time and energy in insuring timeliness is met. “In addition to addressing the increased workload, we've added extended hours so we can now provide clinical services, primary care, mental health and women's health care services in most of our locations.”

She says there is hope for the future and Bay Pines Healthcare System. “We’re in the process of building a new mental health facility, a new mental health building that’s over 100,000 square feet. And it will house our in-patient units, we will be able to increase the number of our in-patient beds, it will also house some residential treatment programs.”