Angry, Tearful Vets Pack Town Hall to Tell of Delayed Care

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 04:49 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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More than 200 angry veterans, some in tears, crowded into a packed American Legion Hall in Phoenix on Tuesday to tell their stories and demand answers about the issues of delayed care within the Phoenix VA Health Care System.

"The problem at the VA goes beyond just one man or even his management team," said American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger, The Arizona Republic reports. "There is a pattern of unresponsiveness that seems to have infected the entire system."

Steve Young, the new acting director of the Phoenix VA system, attended the meeting as one of his first duties after replacing director Sharon Helman, who was placed on leave by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki after reports surfaced about a secret list of veterans awaiting treatment.

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The Phoenix VA system is accused of having one list that showed veterans were receiving care, while a secret list of people who had actually not been seen was allegedly being kept and is being blamed for the deaths of 40 veterans.

A similar issue has popped up in Wyoming, and whistleblowers have indicated problems in North Carolina, Colorado, Georgia and Texas.

Young said just before the meeting — which stretched until almost midnight as veteran after veteran told his or her story — that his job is to restore the Phoenix center and "build back faith."

He said he sees no immediate need to hire more doctors to shorten veterans' waiting times for appointments, and urged people having trouble getting appointments to call the Phoenix VA patient-advocacy program.

But that was no consolation for the veterans who crowded into Tuesday night's forum, agreeing with Dellinger that the VA medical system has failed them.

The commander referred to an email by a VA employee in Cheyenne who had explained how to "game the system" by rigging the books.

"Too often the gaming . . . resembles Russian roulette," he said. "When one patient dies, it's a tragedy. When it's a preventable death, it's intolerable. When it's concealed, it's unforgivable."

NBC reports that an internal memo it obtained from March 2013 reveals top VA officials learned of the problem well before the current allegations and had been quietly trying to fix it since that time.

Veterans at the meeting had many complaints.

"Got cancer? Take a pill," said Phoenix veteran David Barnett, 54, complaining that while the VA delays care, it supplies veterans like him with drugs instead.

"This is what we get," he said, holding up a large basket full of pill canisters.

Another man told the crowd that VA urologists would not do a prostate biopsy on him for 14 months, instead prescribing testosterone shots and antibiotics. When he was diagnosed with cancer, VA police arrested him for complaining.

"There needs to be some housecleaning," said the man, who did not provide his name. "I don't mean just management."

The Concerned Veterans for America and the American Legion have joined Congress in demanding Shinseki's resignation, and Dellinger will be in Washington on Thursday for a Senate committee meeting, at which Shinseki will testify.

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