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  • Local vet center gets 'high level of complaints'

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  • VICTORVILLE — Aides for Rep. Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley, met this week with a Veterans Affairs official to discuss a “high level of complaints” coming from clients of the High Desert Vet Center, Cook’s district director confirmed.
    Their grievances — expressed by several clients in letters to Cook’s aides and the VA official — ranged from feeling disrespected by center staff to being irked by the sudden and reportedly unexplained departure of a well-liked counselor.
    Aside from meeting with a regional manager for the Pacific Western Region Vet Centers on Wednesday, representatives for Cook also spoke to at least 15 clients of the Victorville-based facility, which offers counseling, outreach and referral services to veterans who have been in battle.
    “Our office was receiving a lot of complaints from constituents — veterans, wives and dependents — who receive counseling at the High Desert Vet Center,” said Matt Knox, Apple Valley district director for Cook’s office. “They don’t really like the counselors that are there; some clients think they’ve been disrespected by staff.”
    An attempt Thursday to reach the VA official and the Vet Center for comment was unsuccessful.
    Adelanto resident Donna Hicks, a vet center client who provided to the Daily Press copies of the letters, said a core criticism levied at the center was that a counselor there intentionally made fun of a highly decorated former soldier who is elderly.
    Hicks, 67, believes this alleged incident is indicative of a broader issue facing the center.
    “The lack of respect and inability to cope with the veterans’ problems have gone back years,” she said.
    After Wednesday’s talks, which Knox said went well and described as a session in which aides were “basically trying to find some solutions,” Cook’s district office has vowed to continue to monitor the situation.
    Ultimately, Knox said, it will be up to the VA to make any appropriate changes, while Cook’s office ensures “the VA follows through with their promises.”
    “Our office is very proactive in seeking assistance for veterans,” he said. “We kind of see ourselves as an advocate for the vets.”
    Acknowledging difficulties in dealing with “VA bureaucracy,” Knox called this issue “sort of a microcosm for some of the larger problems that vets are seeing in the VA — kind of a culture of not caring.”
    “We’re trying to avoid” getting to that point, he added.
    Shea Johnson may be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.
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