In battle, soldiers have a unit that watches their backs.
The term “overwatch” refers to the use of drones, snipers or air support as a force protection tactic. It’s this notion that inspired the namesake for an online veterans support group.
Since its creation on Monday, the Warrior Overwatch Facebook page has gained nearly 2,000 members.
“No matter what branch you served in, you took an oath,” said Chris Dorsey, a Gainesville native who created the group. “There’s always overwatch. And, that’s what this is about. It’s letting the warriors know … somebody’s looking out for them.”
Dorsey said, in short, it’s “a forum for veterans who need their story told. And, for those who need help, it’s a chance to link them with VA officials and organizations out there who are doing great stuff.”
Dorsey — who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder — recently garnered national media attention for a video he posted on YouTube. The clip featured him being turned away at the VA Oakwood Community Based Outpatient Clinic by a staffer who said the facility wasn’t accepting new patients.
Since then, the Atlanta VA Medical Center has released a statement on behalf of the local clinic.
Provided by Public Affairs Officer Paige Fluker, the statement specifically addresses the situation Dorsey encountered on June 30 at the Oakwood clinic.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs is dedicated to caring for our nation’s veterans and that means our employees are expected to provide them with courteous customer service, and timely and useful information and advice every time,” the statement said. “The message Mr. Dorsey was given, as seen on the video, is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Some veterans disagree with that. One in particular, Ray Chastain of Clermont, felt the video “was filmed to try and make a point, rather than actually trying to get a service,”
“The VA is a bureaucratic medical system … and if you don’t abide by those rules, you’re hurting the other people in that system,” Chastain said.
Chastain went on to say that he has a nephew who has received treatment from the clinic in Oakwood and knows several others who have gone there as well.
“I think they have an excellent reputation,” Chastain said.
In a statement sent to The Times this week, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson spoke his piece on the matter.
“It is incomprehensible to me that any VA clinic would turn away a veteran — especially one seeking mental health care — without offering alternative options,” Isakson’s statement said. “I am looking into this situation, and I also will raise this with the secretary of the VA.”
Dorsey said he met with Isakson this week.
“(Isakson) was very receptive,” Dorsey said. “He asked me how I thought we could implement change and listened to what I had to say.”
‘A problem of oversight’
Jerry Edwards — a fellow veteran who founded the nonprofit North Georgia Veteran’s Outreach Center in Gainesville — said the June 30 episode at the Oakwood clinic was “a tragedy.”
“It’s not a good thing,” Edwards said. “What it boils down to is, we all know veterans who don’t get what they need at the VA. I’ve never personally had a problem at the Oakwood clinic, but I have had issues with the VA in other areas.”
Added Edwards: “The VA is broken in several places. They’ve never been bad to me, but I hear horror stories … the incident in Oakwood was a problem of oversight.”
The document from the Atlanta VA Medical Center stated that “VA staff should have established a full understanding of Mr. Dorsey’s medical situation and determined if an appointment was available for him at another location or if he was eligible for the Choice Program and could be seen outside of VA.”
The Choice Program — which began in November 2014 — allows veterans already enrolled in VA health care to use a federally issued card to get services from non-VA doctors.
It’s a program Edwards said has its own problems.
“We have the VA Choice card now, but there are doctors who won’t accept it,” Edwards said.
Edwards went on to say he believes Dorsey — who is a friend — has a strong desire to be an advocate for veterans.
“He’s trying to take a watchdog position with all of this,” he said.
When it comes to helping veterans and their loved ones, Dorsey is no stranger to advocacy.
In addition to Warrior Overwatch, he is the founder of Vets 4 Kids, a nonprofit organization that teaches camping and survival skills to the children of deployed and fallen soldiers.
‘We stand behind them’
There are success stories out there, Dorsey said. There are VA clinics and organizations “doing great work.”
His hope is that the new Facebook page he created will help connect veterans with organizations that are willing to help.
“Since Monday, I’ve had people messaging me like crazy,” Dorsey said. “And, it’s not just people who need help. There’s been an outpouring of those who want to help veterans.”
Having recently secured the domain name for a home page, he hopes to see the group grow.
“Something’s got to change,” Dorsey said of the June 30 occurrence at the Oakwood clinic. “My experience was not an isolated incident.”
The statement from the Atlanta VA acknowledged there was room for improvement: “At VA, we know that we must improve our service to veterans and that is precisely why Secretary McDonald began MyVA, a reorganization of the department with the singular goal of placing the veteran at the center of everything we do.”
MyVA was a federal reorganization plan announced in November 2014, which sought to better serve veterans seeking medical treatment.
In the meantime, Dorsey said he hopes Warrior Overwatch can help those who might fall through the cracks.
“We’ll do our best to help resolve issues and pass along information about groups who are doing great things for our brothers and sisters who stood up and took the oath,” he said. “Just like in battle, we stand behind them.”