Ex-VA director returns amid vet complaints

Montgomery County supervisors on Tuesday hired former Veterans Service Agency Director Dwight Thomps
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Montgomery County supervisors on Tuesday hired former Veterans Service Agency Director Dwight Thompson to return while a replacement for the former head of the department is sought.

Supervisors initially considered filling the interim position on a part-time basis, but instead elevated the job to full time to ensure the department’s activities can be monitored more thoroughly.

Supervisors are faced with two issues: the resignation of former Veterans Services Director William Mullarkey, who left for health reasons, and an unresolved issue over complaints lodged by veterans last week.

Several veterans voiced concern to supervisors about how they are treated when trying to schedule rides on the county Veteran Service Agency’s van, which transports veterans to the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany.

The veterans alleged they were being mistreated by staff at the county Veterans Service Agency, one family saying members were hung up on when the conversation became heated.

Veterans said they believe that their Social Security numbers were being sought by agency staff to learn details of their medical center appointments as part of deciding whether they should be put on the van scheduling list. Veterans said they felt their privacy had been invaded and said they were uncomfortable sharing details on why they had medical appointments with a veterans’ agency secretary.

Supervisors last week said it was the first they’d heard of the issue, though officials at the Stratton VA Medical Center said they tried to communicate with the county about these issues more than two months ago.

Stratton VA Medical Center spokesman Peter Potter earlier Tuesday said he and the center’s privacy officer spoke with county Board of Supervisors Chairman Vito Greco about the issues.

Potter said in the perspective of officials at the center, gathering medical information on the veterans raises concerns on violating patient privacy.

“We’re following it very closely,” Potter said.

Potter said it’s understandable that van drivers need to know where veterans are headed, so it’s understandable they would need to know the wing or office where veterans need to be dropped off.

But Potter said there isn’t any reason why information such as Social Security numbers or appointment reasons need to be disseminated to staff at the county Veterans Service Agency.

“Anywhere except for the immediate areas [surrounding the Stratton VA Medical Center], there’s no real necessity there,” Potter said.

Thompson, 63, an Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, served as director of the department from 1996 to 2006 before retiring.

Thompson said he was briefed on supervisors’ review of the situation but did not have any comment on the issue. He said he agreed to come back as soon as he was asked.

“I care about what happens in the department,” Thompson said.

Amsterdam 3rd Ward Supervisor Ronald Barone, chairman of the county board’s human services committee which has oversight for the county veterans agency, said a review into allegations by veterans is ongoing. Barone said he expected to share findings of the probe once it’s complete.

In proposing the change from part time to full time for the interim director’s post, Minden Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush said veterans’ allegations make it a “critical time,” requiring oversight by a department head throughout the day.

“We promised the veterans [last week] that the situation will be looked into, and it is,” Quackenbush said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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