By Katie West
On the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and in the midst of a nationwide Veterans Affairs scandal, Lowcountry military veterans gathered Friday morning to discuss their VA experiences and concerns with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and his staffers.
"To me, this is how we honor the contract that we made with the veterans many, many years ago, some as long as 50 or 60 years ago," said Scott, R-S.C., who spoke individually with many of the veterans and their families at the Charleston County Council chambers. "The fact of the matter is the only way for us to serve the vets at the highest level possible is to hear specifically from them."
Scott said some of the stories he heard surprised him.
"This situation has brought us a lot of cases that will be, A, educational, and B, will lead to some investigations, I believe, from what I've heard so far," he said.
One such case was that of Army veteran William Manning. The James Island resident came because he said he hasn't been treated fairly by the Department of Veterans Affairs since he experienced complications from his 2010 surgery at a VA hospital. After the department denied his tort claim, he tried to get a disability claim, but "they're still dragging their behinds" and failing to communicate with him, he said.
"If I'm willing to put my life on the line in the military, the least that they can do is have a meeting with a veteran and let me air my grievances," said Manning, who served in Okinawa in the 1960s.
He was skeptical that bringing his story to the senator's office would help, he said, but he wanted to try.
Brenda Smith drove from Harleyville to represent her deceased husband, Eugene Smith, a Vietnam Army veteran. He had fallen while at a VA hospital but was not admitted overnight, as she had requested, and ultimately had to be admitted to Trident Medical Center for further care, she said.
But Smith was hopeful that speaking with Scott's office would help promote positive change.
"I really feel like there will be some good to come out of this," she said.
Scott said the D-Day anniversary was a "fitting opportunity" to work toward ensuring that veterans receive the care they deserve.
"We should recognize their sacrifices and make sure that those who follow in their footsteps, whether it's the Vietnam conflict or others, have the opportunity to see America stand up and step forward and say, 'We meant what we said, and we're going to do what we promised.' " he said.
Sen. Scott also held veterans listening sessions later in the day in Lexington and Greenville.