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It's not an easy thing to switch from one health-care system to another. There's a natural reluctance to deal with a new bureaucracy and all the red tape that can go with it.

The process can seem so intimidating that some might decide to stay right where they are, even though making a change might actually be beneficial.

Eliminating that anxiety has become the primary goal this year of the Buffalo Veterans Administration Medical Center.

"Getting started in VA Healthcare should be simple," said VA Public Affairs Officer Arlene Kelly. "That's why we've created the new center located right inside the door of the outpatient entrance at the VA Western New York Healthcare System.

"The premise is getting rid of the red tape and excess paperwork associated with government bureaucracy and should make a hospital visit more pleasant. Getting answers to questions shouldn't require a map for multiple stops all over the 11 floors of the Bailey Avenue facility."

The new Veterans Service Center, in operation for two months, is a one-stop approach to welcoming veterans into VA Healthcare. There they can get a photo ID card, have questions about benefits answered, find out about Tricare (family coverage for active-duty military), have a bill explained, or talk to a patient representative.

Patient representative Henry Patronski describes his role as helping the communications process between patients and the health care providers.

"What I do," he said, "is explain VA procedures, making referrals to the Veterans Benefits Administration office for benefits other than health-related, helping with transfers to other VA facilities, and in rarer instances, intervening in crisis situations."

Kelly said, "Upon arriving, the first person a veteran meets at the VA, besides the helpful parking lot attendants, is a greeter in a burgundy jacket. This smiling person will offer directions, mostly, but can provide a wheelchair and personal escort, if necessary.

"The greeter has volunteered to do this job, leaving his or her 'normal' work in the motor pool, the computer department, or the operating room, for two hours biweekly, when he or she gets to help veterans face to face. The role is considered a privilege and creates a clearer perspective for the rest of the workday.

VA Hospital Director William Feeley, said, "The greeter program has attracted observers from other local hospitals. And the Veterans Service Center is serving as a prototype for the rest of the VA Upstate New York Network."

He added, "We want to exceed the expectations of veterans and their families when they come here. The care we'd want for our own Dad and Mom is what we will give them."

"KEEPING THE PROMISE" is a monthly feature of the Buffalo News. Veterans' questions can be answered by calling the VA Hospital at 862-8888.

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