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VA meets in Charlotte to address Salisbury hospital changes

The Department of Veterans Affairs angered patients and employees at the Salisbury Hospital when it suddenly announced last fall it would shut down the ER and refer acute patients to private hospitals. The outrage convinced officials to postpone any changes until 2013, giving time to hold town hall meetings like on scheduled for Wednesday night in Charlotte. VA officials say the goal is to give veterans medical care closer to home. Many currently drive more than an hour for treatment in Salisbury. The VA plans to pick up the tab for care veterans receive in private hospitals. But Essie Hogue says veterans be stuck paying more. She's a nurse at the Salisbury VA hospital and president of the local chapter of American Federation of Government Employees. "I mean with the unemployment rate the way it is, I don't know where they think the veterans are gonna get the money to pay their part, because they will have large co-pays," says Hogue. "They don't have to pay these large co-pays if they continue their treatment within the VA hospital." Salisbury VA Hospital Director Carolyn Adams says veterans should only have to pay extra if they go to an emergency room with a condition that's not really an emergency. "Part of our efforts will be in the education component of what is an emergency and how to access this care," says Adams. Adams adds the VA will also expand treatment options at its smaller clinics in Charlotte and Winston-Salem to take care of more veterans with non-emergency issues. Still, she says feedback from veterans in the next three years will shape the changes. Already, she says dental services have been added to the plan for the VA's Hickory clinic as a result of veteran requests.