Veterans concerned over potential move of Waco PTSD program

WACO, Texas (KWTX) Central Texas veterans are afraid a program meant to help them cope with their PTSD could lose quality and become less effective if a proposed move from the Waco VA to the Temple VA takes place.

Photo by Neal Klaeser

The Department of Veterans Affairs is considering moving the PTSD Residential Rehab Program (PRRP) from the Doris Miller Veterans Medical Center in Waco to Temple.

And some veterans describe the conditions at the Temple location to us as crowded, noisy, and anxiety-inducing which they say are not conducive to recovering from PTSD.

KWTX requested an interview with the director of the Central Texas VA Health Care System.

We were given an interview time of April 18 and after the interview is complete KWTX will bring you those comments.

We spoke with Richard, Brian, Clifford, Joel, George, and Leo: six veterans who've served in combat in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

They're all different ages from different military branches with one thing in common.

"I've lost three relationships due to it," Richard told us, "the anxiety the, mood swings, hard to sleep, don't want to sleep, waking up. It's a mess."

They've all struggled with PTSD.

"Helicopters are big trigger for me. Airplanes are a big trigger for me. Obviously crowds, driving," Brian told us.

Leo said, "it's overwhelming and overstimulating, my anxiety ramps up and I get very aggressive."

The PTSD Residential Rehab Program is located at the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco.

These veterans either went through the program or they're in it now.

"The traumatic events we went through, it teaches us to see the good of what we were doing and not just the negative parts," Brian said.

And they say facilities in Waco are ideal for the two-month program when you're dealing with something like PTSD, with a sprawling campus, with trees, grass, space, and a calm atmosphere.

"With PTSD it's very hard to deal with loud noises and crowds. And in that environment there in Waco, it's got a very calm, very quiet building, open facility where we can walk around get some air," Joel told us.

"It's all very chill, it's not overcrowded," Leo said.

But Clifford was once treated in the substance abuse program at the domiciliary at the Department of Veterans Affairs Temple campus, and he says that location has a much different environment.

The Temple VA is the proposed location for the move.

"You can sense and see the tension," Clifford told us, "I see potential for things to get heated with substance abuse, and you're dealing more with the problems with PTSD, so I think it's good for them to be separated."

And Joel used receive primary care at the Temple VA.

"Just overcrowded, lots of people moving, lots of noises, and it almost seemed like there were too many patients for the staff," he said, "so I actually changed my primary care from Temple to Waco."

Joel said, "the care and treatment, it's so much easier to call, get the one-on-one time, get that appointment."

So why is the VA considering moving the program to Temple?

Steve Hernandez with the McLennan County Veterans Services Office says he's been told the veterans could be closer to the substance abuse treatment program located in Temple to save money on travel costs.

But according to the VA website only a little over 20 percent of those diagnosed with PTSD have substance abuse issues.

When asked whether they thought it was a good idea to move the PRRP program from Waco to Temple, no one on our panel agreed with the proposal.

"I think it's fair to concede the convenience of having both of the programs in one place," Leo said, "but I think what they're doing is they're trading the quality of care and the environment for the convenience of having them together. And I don't think that's a good trade."

"Now you're dealing with loud noises, and for me, loud noises, I jump a lot. I'm startled," Joel said of a potential move the Temple facility, "you would constantly be jumping, constantly have that reaction, and I think it would actually be detrimental to move it over there."

And these veterans say some substance issues can be addressed at the Waco facility if the need arises.

"They have ways to help with substance and alcohol, to help stop the cravings, they have things they can do or give you," Joel said.

Congressman Bill Flores, (R) District 17, told us, "we haven't heard really good reasoning for the move of PRRP to Temple."

The Waco VA lies in the district of Congressman Flores.

He says he has been told it was to make way for a women's residential program which he welcomes.

"I think we have a much better facility at the Doris Miller campus for female veterans than down at the domiciliary, but on the other hand the domiciliary is not a good environment for PTSD patients," he told us.

"My goal is to stop the move," Flores said of the PRRP.

But the Temple VA lies in the district of Congressman John Carter and he feels differently.

"I am not opposed the move, my logic tells me it makes sense," said Congressman John Carter, (R) District 31, "PTSD needs to be where the soldiers are, and every time they come back they got a problem with it. And that may be the thinking. But we will sit down with the director and get his thinking in the very near future."

But the veterans in this federal program are from all over Texas and out of state, not just Fort Hood.

"Carter should talk to the veterans," George said.

When the veterans on the panel were asked if anyone had gotten their opinion about the potential move, all of them said no.

"It's aggravating that they don't take into account our opinions. It's all voluntary," Brian told us.

And Joel said, "We choose these facilities when we go to get the treatment based on the care we can receive and the environment you're going to have there. By not asking us, it kind of feels like we don't matter or we don't count when it comes to our care. And we need to matter because we're the ones receiving the care, we're the ones who need the help."

A VA spokesperson notified News 10 that a teleconference town hall will be held this week so veterans can voice their concerns.