The Gazette will host a discussion Tuesday on veterans' health in the Pikes Peak region.

The discussion, part of The Gazette's Community Conversations series, will kick off at 6 p.m. at the Pioneers Museum, 215 S. Tejon St.

"In Community Conversations, we at The Gazette are able to engage directly with our audience on important issues of the day and hopefully get their questions answered," said Gazette Editor Vince Bzdek.

Gazette senior military reporter Tom Roeder will moderate the discussion with a panel of local experts and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who recently introduced the Veterans Empowerment Act.

The congressman's bill could radically change how veterans receive health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the largest health-care system in the country, serving more than 9 million veterans at 1,240 health-care facilities.

"This bill throws out the idea of acceptable patient wait times and eliminates the requirement of the veteran to ask for VA permission to use civilian medical providers," Lamborn said.

The discussion will look at care in the region, problems facing veterans and how Colorado Springs is equipped to deal with up to 10,000 combat veterans heading to Afghanistan from Fort Carson this year.

The panel experts are Bob McLaughlin, chief operations officer for the Mount Carmel Center, which helps veterans and their families make the transition to civilian life; Kate Hatten, president and CEO of Peak Military Care Network, which connects service members and vets to community resources; Terrance McWilliams, senior vice president of military and veteran affairs for the El Pomar Foundation; and Jay Bowen, who heads the board of Crawford House and served in the state's top American Legion post. Crawford House provides emergency services for vets in need.

"Our vets need better, faster care. Is privatizing all health care the answer? That is the central question being debated in Washington right now, and it will be the central question at our forum, too," Bzdek said.

The day after the forum, The Gazette and news partner KKTV Channel 11 will provide a hotline, staffed by experts from the offices of U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, to answer veterans' questions about health-care.

The hotline will be open from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at 719-457-0640.

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