WASHINGTON, July 3, 2014 — Laura Miles is one of six veterans featured in an AZCentral.com documentary about how the VA scandal, and the lack of care makes veterans feel.
Calling for an appointment at the VA, Miles was told there would be a three-to-six month waiting list to get in for a first visit to have her injuries reviewed — injuries sustained while in the service. That first appointment would have been for review, not for treatment or even a treatment plan. And that type of response is unacceptable on any level.
She says, “When I go into the VA hospital, there are people everywhere in the hallways and you are given a number. We are just numbers.”
Emanuel Herrera is a veteran of the U.S. Army and the recipient of a Purple Heart. In speaking of the VA he says, “they just forget about you. They let you fall through the cracks and that is when you feel like damaged goods.”
A recipient of the Purple Heart for being injured in the service of his country he feels like “damaged goods.”
Warner Weber says that it was not a lack of money that hurt the VA, but the greed of the very people a vet should be able to trust most.
Veterans have died while waiting for VA services. This has helped create a scandal at the VA that led to the departure of highly decorated Army General Eric Shinseki, himself a veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart, in May.
Internal VA audits show that more than 100,000 veterans were forced to wait in excess of 90 days for appointments. Of those facilities surveyed, 76 percent said they had been instructed to alter appointment data, to show reduced wait times.
At the Phoenix VA, 40 veterans are known to have died due to this malfeasance.
Susan Chase of Massachusetts knows all to well the meaning of “insult to injury.” Chase buried her husband in 2012 after he died from brain cancer. Douglas Chase was a Vietnam veteran. After receiving his diagnosis, they attempted to move his care to Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford.
The VA hospital in Bedford calls the situation that ensued “regrettable.” In a statement they said “We will examine our process, do what we can to fix it, and institute measures to prevent this from happening again.”
Chase wanted her husband to get care from the Bedford VA facility as the trip into Boston was hard on her husband, a paraplegic. It required a difficult, and certainly expensive, ambulance ride. They simply wanted his care to be closer.
After four months without a reply from the hospital, Douglas Chase died in August, 2012.
READ ALSO: Our veterans deserve better
Two weeks ago, Chase received a belated response to their attempt to find relief via the VA. In that letter Douglas was urged to contact them to set up an appointment as quickly as possible; it reopened the pain of watching her husband die.
“It’s such a disrespectful thing, not to be able to care for those putting their lives at risk,” his widow said on Tuesday.
“The letter invited him to make an appointment with primary care at the VA, if he so desired. Then at the bottom they said they wanted a quick response,” Chase told ABC’s Boston affiliate WCVB.
The VA letter concluded, “We are committed to providing primary care in a timely manner and would greatly appreciate a prompt response.”
Adding the insult to the injury of having been denied the health care services he deserved — that he earned — the VA denied him veterans funeral benefits because he was not treated at a veterans hospital.
Chase finds the letter disingenuous; because she had applied for funeral benefits, the VA had been notified that her husband had died.
The Department of Veterans Affairs issued the following statement about the matter:
“We regret any distress our actions caused to the Veteran’s widow and family.
“At the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, our most important mission is to provide the high quality health care and benefits Veterans have earned and deserve – where and when they need it.
“Thank you for bringing this regrettable issue to our attention. We apologize for our error and any difficulties this has caused you. We will examine our process, do what we can to fix it, and institute measures to prevent this from happening again.
“As part of the corrective actions taken to address scheduling issues, VA launched the Accelerating Access to Care Initiative, a nationwide program to ensure timely access to care. VA has identified Veterans across the system experiencing waits that do not meet Veterans’ expectations for timeliness. VA has been contacting and scheduling Veterans who are waiting for care. We regret causing any pain in this effort.
“The Acting Director called the Veteran’s widow to apologize. We were able to leave a voicemail with the Director’s phone number. The Acting Director will call the Veteran’s widow again tomorrow. We want to be sure that she is, as well as other Veterans and their family members are, treated with dignity and respect.”