Concerns about health care, cost of living funding and more filled the meeting room at the Grove VFW on Tuesday, July 11, as more than 100 veterans and their family members took part in a forum.

The event, organized by Rusty Henson, commander of the Grove VFW, featured a variety of individuals including Rep. Josh West (R-Grove) and Pete Reed, program coordinator for the Oklahoma Veterans Pilot Program.

While part of the two hour session revolved around veterans concerns regarding the potential cuts in President Donald Trump's proposed budget, much of the questions focused on veterans and health care.

Reed spoke with the veterans gathered about the Oklahoma Veteran Pilot Program, a cooperative initiative of state, federal and private entities, working to create a veterans-centered healthcare system that works alongside the current Veterans Affairs system.

"Your input is critical," West told the veterans, as he encouraged them to take the online survey of veterans needs. "We want to enhance the system [with the program] and make it better.

The program, which began in 2016, is a three-year pilot program. Funded by federal dollars with state and private resources, the initiative is designed to create a regional system of healthcare providers who will work with veterans. 

Reed said the goal is to not only create a program to benefit the more than 300,000 veterans in Oklahoma, but to develop a national model of care. 

The survey, the "Take 10 Survey" is available for veterans now until Sept. 1 online at http://okvetshealth.com. Conducted with help by researchers at the University of Oklahoma, the questionnaire is designed to gather data regarding veterans, their health care issues and how they have interacted with the VA system.

If things continue on schedule, Reed said the program will begin identifying health care providers and creating regions of care for veterans by early 2018.

About the forum

The forum is the first of several West plans to host throughout District 5 during the summer recess. 

"I just want to hear what people say," West said. "I value their opinions.

"I want people to know I'm available. That's what this position is all about, serving the district."

West said he wants constituents know they can call him, regardless of the topic, to voice their opinion.

"You take the good with the bad," West said. "Not everybody I talk to will be happy, but at least they know I'm listening to them."

For Henson, the forum, provided an opportunity to gather veterans from the region, as well as the state, for a veteran-centered question and answer session.

Those in attendance included representatives from VFW's in Grove, Bernice and Fort Sill, as well as three American Legions in Grove, Jay and Spavinaw, as well as the DAV in Grove, Cherokee Nation, and Congressman Markwayne Mullin's staff, in addition to West and Reed. 

"All were present to work together to improve the lives of veterans," Henson said. "We look forward to our continued partnership with all of these organizations. We are grateful for all who made this forum a huge success."