Vets report problems booking rides to doctors

Vietnam veteran Fred Cox has medical appointments about every two weeks in Albany and said he obtain

Vietnam veteran Fred Cox has medical appointments about every two weeks in Albany and said he obtains a ride from Montgomery County’s Veteran Service Agency van as many as four times a week, depending on doctors’ orders.

He said he has uncontrollable diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues requiring different doctors, and the trips are essential for managing his health.

But lately, Cox said, he’s finding treatment by the county agency difficult to understand.

“I don’t need the aggravation,” said Cox, 58, who’s been going to the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany since 1971. “I’ve already had one heart attack.”

Cox and other veterans on Wednesday said they’ve been refused rides or told to take a cab, which can cost about $95 one way from Fonda to Albany. Some veterans claim they’ve been hung up on by county veterans service representatives. They allege that the secretary at the county veterans service office, Christine Pasquarelli, used their Social Security numbers to gain information on their medical appointments for the purpose of determining whether or not to schedule them a slot on the van.

Pasquarelli did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

County supervisors said they are just learning details of the allegations and meeting to resolve the situation.

A Stratton representative said Wednesday that officials there started contacting Montgomery County more than two months ago about the unusual line of questioning veterans were receiving in order to register for rides.

“The whole issue of using a Social Security number to get a ride is questionable,” said Stratton spokesman Peter Potter. “When we hear that patient data or patient information is used out there, it raises a lot of red flags.”

It was unclear Wednesday whether any of the alleged activities, if found true, violate any laws.

The county’s Veteran Service Agency, with a budget of $139,480, employs two part-time van drivers and one full-time driver in addition to Pasquarelli and director William Mullarkey, who has previously announced that he is stepping down as of Friday due to health issues.

Mullarkey on Wednesday morning said he was not aware of veterans’ concerns, first made public during this week’s county Board of Supervisors meeting.

Amsterdam 5th Ward Supervisor Karl Baia, a member of the county human services committee, said he did hear there was an issue regarding the schedule of the agency’s full-time van driver, who could only work a certain number of hours a week. That, he said, may have “put a strain on how exactly the veterans department had scheduled drivers.

“If what they say is true, we have a problem that needs addressing,” Baia said.

Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman Vito Greco said he, county Attorney Doug Landon, county Personnel Officer Richard Baia, Mullarkey and human services committee Chairman Ronald Barone met Wednesday. Greco said he had no new information to share about the probe. The group will meet again today.

“We have to get the facts. We don’t have enough information to report. We just found out,” Greco said.

Greco, a Navy veteran, said the current issue and the void that Mullarkey’s departure will create are important. Greco said officials are hoping to hire a former veteran service agency director while a search for Mullarkey’s successor takes place.

“I’m not going to do anything to eliminate any services they have or cut the services,” Greco said.

Veteran Greg Morse said that when he calls the office to schedule a ride for a medical appointment, he’s been getting an “attitude” from Pasquarelli that is frustrating. Morse said sometimes his doctor wants to see him the next day. But Morse claims he has been told by Pasquarelli that he needs to call at least 24 hours ahead of time, which sometimes is not possible. Morse said he has called just after 2 p.m. to get on the next day’s schedule and been told that he was too late because the schedule had already been taken to the office where the drivers retrieve it the next day.

Morse said he has to go through a battery of questions when he contacts Pasquarelli to register for the bus travel schedule, and he feels uncomfortable sharing details of his personal medical information, such as the purpose of his visit or his symptoms.

“This woman, she wants to know what your appointments are. It’s none of her business,” Morse said.

Karen LaGrange said she started getting on the telephone to assist her husband, Raymond, a disabled Gulf War veteran, because he was becoming emotionally upset while talking to Pasquarelli.

“She also tried to make the veterans change their appointments,” Karen LaGrange contends.

Amsterdam 4th Ward Supervisor David Dybas said he wanted to see more information before making any judgments but said he believed the situation has become serious.

“I’m not treating it lightly,” Dybas said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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