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Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEWORLEANS-- Town hall meetings are taking place across the state hosted by Louisiana's Department of Veterans Affairs to hear from veterans first-hand about their experiences with VA services.

The controversy surrounding VA patient wait times is being felt on both the local and state levels, including in St. Charles Parish.

'It feels like it was a long time ago. South Louisiana has got some similar attributes from Vietnam, but it seems like forever ago. It really does,' said Stanley Dufrene.

Fourteen months serving in Vietnam as a combat medic feels like another time and place for Dufrene. The St. Charles Parish veteran proudly flies the red-white-and-blue outside his Luling home.

But recent health problems, possibly connected to Agent Orange exposure, prompted a VA medical visit. Dufrene is glad he went.

'I've had to go in and inquire about several things. They've been very professional. The timing was very adequate to me. I was surprised at how quickly I got responses,' Dufrene said.

However, controversy continues to swirl around an internal audit supplied by the Department of Veterans Affairs that uncovered tens of thousands of veterans facing long wait times and falsified patient records at VA facilities across the country.

The commander at VFW Post 3750 in Luling says 45 percent of its members utilize VA services. Some of them are experiencing hiccups.

'It is the same thing they're seeing nationwide -- slow response times on appointments, long recovery time as far as getting claims processed,' said VFW Commander Bobby Lovergne.

A town hall meeting was held Wednesday night in Luling where state and local leaders met to hear from local veterans about their Veterans Affair experiences.

Louisiana's Secretary of Veterans Affairs David LaCerte said long wait times aren't the only challenges facing the system and veterans across the state.

'Speciality care has been a problem within the VA, getting access to physicians within the VA and outside the VA are problems and then non-VA physicians being paid is a huge problem. Some physicians wait three or four years before receiving payment from the VA,' said LaCerte.

As veterans continue to share positive and negative experiences in seeking care from the VA, leaders and heroes agree more needs to be done to fix a system in need of repair.

'I think it is unacceptable that we're having these problems right now. We got to do what we can to resolve it. Even though it is a federally controlled issue, we're here to fight for our constituents and our veterans,' said state Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco.

'Veterans, we served our time. It is time for people to start taking care of what we need done,' Lovergne said.

More town hall meetings are scheduled for veterans across the metro area through September.

The next meeting will be held in Jefferson Parish. For a complete list of dates and locations, click here.

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