Committee listens to concerns of veterans -

BURLINGTON — The state Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee held a town hall Thursday in Burlington to talk to veterans about available services.

“It’s an opportunity to make sure we’re on the right track,” said Gary Condra, deputy director of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs. “I hope they feel like they’ve been heard.”

The committee is made up of 17 volunteers and breaks into smaller groups in order to hold meetings such as Thursday’s throughout the state.

The purpose of the meetings is to visit communities and find out what veterans want, Condra said.

“We need the voice of our customers,” he said. “We’re here to serve veterans, so we need to know what they want.”

At the town hall, which was held at American Legion Memorial Post 91, local agencies that provide services to veterans were present, including WorkSource, Community Action of Skagit County, Skagit County Public Health and representatives of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“I hear the employee side of the story pretty frequently, but it’s nice to hear the veterans side as well,” said Michael Tadych, the medical center director for the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.

Many questions were directed to Tadych and revolved around efficiency and quality of care at VA clinics, including the Community Based Outreach Clinic in Mount Vernon.

“I think the VA’s changing,” Tadych said. “For so many years, the VA had always been that bureaucratic government agency. We are listening. There’s a different commitment to improving the overall care.”

Tadych said the VA is dedicated to becoming more user-friendly. That includes changing the Veterans Choice Program to reduce wait times for appointments and services.

“Helping coordinate care for veterans, ensuring appointments are done timely, and not, ‘We’ve referred them, so it’s not our problem anymore,’” he said. “Veterans care is our concern at all times.”

Tadych also addressed the Puget Sound Health Care System’s attempt to limit long-term opioid use and talked about whether the system would turn to options such as medical marijuana.

“At this point, our hands are pretty tied,” Tadych said. “It’s viewed as an illegal substance by the federal government.”

Another concern voiced was overcrowding at the Mount Vernon clinic. Tadych responded that an Everett clinic is in the works that would hopefully relieve some of the pressure at the Mount Vernon clinic.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141,, Twitter: @Kera_SVH,