SAN ANGELO, Tx. – A Veterans Affairs hospital in West Texas has devised an ingenious way to deal with the exceptionally long wait times suffered by many veterans seeking healthcare. Officials at the West Texas VA Medical Center in San Angelo have erected a tent city in a vacant lot adjacent to the facility where veterans with wait times of forty-five days or more can find temporary lodging.
“Presently, we’re operating at about forty percent capacity,” John Abrams, Director of Environmental Services at the West Texas Center, told NewsWest 9, a local NBC affiliate. Abrams, who oversees day-to-day operations at the tent city, said the lot currently hosts twenty full-size disaster relief tents on loan from FEMA. “Each tent has the capacity to hold about twenty-five cots,” explained Abrams during a tour of the city. “Right now I’ve got about half a dozen Porto-Johns around back as well as a fire hydrant that we open up once a day for showers.”
In addition to providing free housing and running water to up to five hundred veterans in need of healthcare, Adams told NewsWest 9 that the medical center has entered into an agreement with a fleet of local food trucks. “They pull up every morning at 7:45 sharp and dish out meals,” Adams said, adding, “In fact, a couple of these drivers are vets themselves, so occasionally they’ll throw in a little extra grub or offer these guys a twenty percent discount.”
Twenty-eight year-old Reginald Williams, a former staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, has spent more than three months awaiting treatment for an infection caused by injuries he sustained to his leg during two consecutive tours in Afghanistan. “This place saved my life,” Williams said before going on to say that his infection had become so bad in recent weeks that a fellow soldier awaiting chemotherapy, who served as a combat medic in Iraq, performed an emergency field amputation on his leg. “If it wasn’t for the tent city, I would have died,” a grateful Williams said.
Veterans and staff alike at the West Texas VA Medical Center agree that the tent city has already done more than enough to help put an end to the troubled history surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, one benefit that seems to stand out among the rest is the ability for veterans to come and go as they please without losing their place on the waiting list. “It’s a refreshing change to see our veterans being given the dignity they deserve,” Abrams said.