Dunwoody Crier

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath put the focus on veterans at an intimate town hall Dec. 2.

A little over 50 people, at least a third of them veterans, attended the event, which McBath’s office said is her fifth town hall since her election last year. After McBath spoke and took questions from the audience, there was a resources fair with organizations that serve veterans.

McBath said she hosted the town hall to hear stories firsthand and learn how to better help her veteran constituents.

“Even though you are my constituents, you are my family,” McBath said. “It is my job, my responsibility to care for you, represent you and value as if you were my own family.”

McBath’s talk focused on poor levels of service at Atlanta’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center; veteran suicide, especially suicide by firearms, and veteran access to healthcare, especially for women veterans.

McBath found a personal connection to each of these concerns.

McBath said she comes from a military family, with her father, oldest brother, nephew and cousin all serving in some capacity. She compared her brother’s “glowing” review of the VA center in San Diego with her visit to the Atlanta facility.

In 2018, the Atlanta facility was one of nine in the country to receive a one-star rating from the federal VA. Reports have found it is understaffed and its staff undertrained. In September, a Vietnam Air Force Veteran staying in the facility was found covered in ants with hundreds of bites.

“The stories I have heard about the lack of care, the lack of services provided has greatly disturbed and greatly concerned me, because for anyone who has had the strength and fortitude to put on a uniform and serve in our military services deserves so, so much more from America and so, so much more from the state of Georgia,” McBath said.

McBath said she is working to get answers from the medical center and praised Sen. Johnny Isakson for his work to improve the facility.

“I hope to be able to build upon the foundations he’s already laid on your behalf,” she said.

In 2017, there were 194 veteran suicides in Georgia, 14 percent of all Georgia suicides that year, and 77 percent of Georgia veteran suicides were by firearm, according to VA data.

McBath’s son was murdered in November 2012 when he was 17. His shooting led McBath to become a gun-control advocate. She said she has a deep understanding of gun violence and suicide by firearm.

“I am still a mother, what I would be giving to my son, I translate into providing for you,” McBath said.

A report by the VA found the Atlanta facility failed to complete mammograms for 42 patients from 2014 to 2017. McBath said this was unacceptable.

“I’m a two-time breast cancer survivor,” McBath said. “I understand how important consistent yearly mammograms are, and for women who are at risk, every six months. I get that, because I understand the reason I am standing here today is because of the early detection of mammograms and ultrasounds.”

After McBath spoke there was time for a few questions, all asked by veterans. Some said in spite of the overall system, they’d had good experiences with some employees at the Atlanta VA center. Others said a complete turnover was needed.

Attendees said there needed to be better training for employees and volunteers, more consistency across different facilities, and an easier process for when patients are referred to outside healthcare providers.

In August, McBath became part of a small number of freshman representatives to introduce a bill, have it passed by both chambers and signed into law. The HAVEN Act — Honoring American Veterans in Extreme Need — amends bankruptcy law to treat Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense veterans’ disability payments the same as Social Security disability benefits, which are exempt from bankruptcy means testing.

State Rep. Mary Frances Williams, a Democrat from Marietta who introduced McBath, praised the congresswoman for her ability to work across party lines.

“When I think about Washington, D.C., my heart sinks because I think about the gridlock … in the midst of all that Lucy has actually managed to pass a bill and get it signed by President Trump,” Williams said. “That’s really an amazing explanation of how she works across the aisle and how hard she works.”

McBath was elected to Georgia’s 6th congressional district in 2018, flipping the seat for Democrats. She represents parts of DeKalb, north Fulton and Cobb counties, including Alpharetta, Dunwoody, Johns Creek, Milton and Roswell.

Following the Q&A, representatives from local organizations including the Marietta Vet Center, the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program, the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, the Travis Manion Foundation, the Finishing Trades Institute and the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia met with guests to speak about the services and resources available to veterans in the metropolitan Atlanta region.

Members of McBath’s constituent services team were also on site to answer questions. The office can assist with obtaining copies of military records, replacing of lost or destroyed service medals, applying for Supplemental Social Security Income or Medicare, health care services, education benefits; dependent and survivor benefits, the VA home loan program and life insurance benefits.

Veterans who wish to seek assistance can contact the office at (470) 773-6330.