HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - New management and new policies are coming to the Horry County Veterans Affairs Office in Conway.
In the past, veterans waited for hours to be seen by Veterans Affairs counselors. Now, it's by appointment only.
The new director said he is trying to bring the office into the 21st century by adding new software that will expedite the benefits and claims process.
Ronnie Elvis was appointed the director in December 2015. He said one of the first things he noticed when he came was veterans were waiting to be seen for hours and counselors were not taking lunch breaks.
"I like to treat people the way I want to be treated, and I don't like to go places and wait two or three hours to get business done," Elvis said.
Charles Booker, a veteran originally from Maryland, said he remembered sitting for over two hours waiting to be seen during his first visit to the VA office.
Booker came to the office Wednesday to find out counselors could only be seen with an appointment. He said he gladly made an appointment to return Thursday morning.
"I had an appointment at 11 o'clock. I got here at 10:15 a.m., and about 10:50 they me took back in the office to see my coordinator," Booker said. "The appointment process is so much better, so much quicker."
Elvis said he knew he would be hear some controversy about the change, but felt the decision was about the greater good.
"It was done for the benefit of the veteran. We want a veteran to come in, take care of business and then get back to work, get back to their home, friends and family or whatever they were doing that day," Elvis stated.
Elvis, a 27-year veteran himself, said he is changing operations in the office to improve the quality of service for the men and woman who bravely served the country.
"What I want to do is make this the absolute most efficient VA office in the state," he said.
According to the state Census, there are about 30,000 veterans living in Horry County. The local office serves about 12,000 of them.
"That's one of the goals of this office, to make sure every veteran in this county knows that we are here and know what services we offer," Elvis said.
He added that technology will help the office do its job more efficiently. In the past, Elvis said VA claims and benefits were processed by fax machine or through the mail. This led to an extreme delay, which led to it typically taking 180 days for veterans to find out there status.
Now, new VA software, purchased for about $4,000, lets counselors file paperwork electronically so veterans can receive their benefits quicker.
"We expect a three- to six-week turnaround time for adjudication. So, instead of six months, it's now six weeks," Elvis said.
The software will be fully operational May 1st.
Veterans like Bill Powell are grateful for the services.
"I first applied for benefits in West Virginia, and I came down to South Carolina, and the process went a lot faster. These folks down here are great. They seem to take more interest in the veterans than they do farther north," stated Powell.
The office has launched a new website that makes it easier to get information about programs and services.
Other changes include reaching those veterans in the county that are not physically able to travel to the office. Elvis said he is currently making upgrades to the Homebound Program.
All these changes reflect the staff's dedication to serving the veterans of Horry County.
"They do deserve it. Because of their service and because of their sacrifices, we are able to pick and choose what careers we want," Elvis said. "The reason we are so free is because somebody decided to wear a uniform."